COVID-19: WADPN Provides Emergency Humanitarian Responses to Persons who use Drugs

COVID-19: WADPN Provides Emergency Humanitarian Responses to Persons who use Drugs

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While West Africa has increasingly become an important hub for the global trade of illegal drugs, drug policy in the region has shown considerable weaknesses as West African states continue to treat persons who use drugs (PWUD) as criminals. During the COVID-19, the underlying vulnerable conditions of PWUD have been intensified by the virus and lock-down measures. In this context, the West Africa Drug Policy Network (WADPN) has implemented a COVID-19 Emergency Response Programme to mitigate the pandemic’s impact on PWUD which has been proved to be impactful.

Additional risks and challenges of people who use drugs during COVID-19

Over the last decades, West Africa has increasingly become an important hub for the global trade of illegal drugs. According to WACSI’s report on drug trafficking, production and consumption in West Africa (2018), West African countries have not only emerged as sources for the export of drugs but also transit points for the transhipment of drugs such as cocaine and heroin, from South America and South-East Asia to Europe, North America and the Middle East. The African continent is now the second main market for cannabis in the world after America’s whiles West Africa represents 78% of the total cocaine seizures on the continent. The drug trade is an essential issue for the region’s development and prosperity, as it poses significant threats to the democratisation process, economic growth, human rights, women empowerment and rule of law.

While drug trade has boomed, the number of PWUD across the region has also thrived. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the existing difficult economic, social, health, and housing conditions of PWUD. Unemployment or lack of stable employment has caused economic hardship for PWUD, with some living in precarious settings or are homeless. Petty drug dealers and vulnerable drug users are more prone to arbitrary arrest and long jail sentences for loitering, possession or drug use. PWUD are at higher risk of contracting hepatitis B and C, HIV/AIDS, other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and tuberculosis. As they commonly face social exclusion and stigmatisation from their communities, they are also less likely to access treatment services.

Thus, in times of COVID-19, PWUD have even more difficulty accessing personal protection equipment (PPEs). Their chances of getting the virus are significant as PWUD can find themselves detained in already overcrowded prisons, as West African states currently treat drug use as a criminal justice rather than a public health issue. PWUD’s tendency to share drugs and drug equipment further exposes them to the virus while precarious housing conditions prevent them from respecting lock-down and stay-at-home measures.

The WADPN COVID-19 Emergency Response Programme

Recognising these numerous challenges faced by PWUD in West Africa, the West Africa Drug Policy Network (WADPN) implemented a COVID-19 Emergency Response Programme to mitigate the pandemic’s negative impact on already vulnerable PWUD’s social, economic and health conditions.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic has emerged in West Africa, WADPN has reached out to more than 400 PWUD in 4 West African countries to provide them with credible information on the coronavirus preventive measures, signs and symptoms. Through their network of 600 West African civil society organisations (CSOs), they have been engaging PWUD from Mali, Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast and Nigeria to encourage them not to assemble and share drugs. To address the economic and health impact of the pandemic, WADPN has supplied PPEs and food items. WADPN also provided PWUD with drug use equipment and facilitated their access to counselling, treatment, rehabilitation and drug use equipment. Finally, partners across the region have interacted with law enforcement officers to reduce raids on drug use environments and to ensure limited incarceration and detention of drugs users for loitering, possession or drug use.

“Before WADPN, we were ignored by everyone”

Interviewed by WACSI, the WADPN Executive Director, Prince Bull Luseni talked about the impact of the COVID-19 Emergency Response Programme. “Before the COVID-19 police officers used to raid them as often as possible. But with engagements in Nigeria and in Mali, raids have reduced significantly, and there has been minimal arrest for loitering”. Combined with ongoing efforts in drug policy engagement with high-level policymakers, there is no doubt that the WADPN contributes to better protection of PWUD and awareness on drug policy reform.

PWUD who were targeted by the WAPDN initiative confirmed the positive impact of the initiative on their wellbeing. Among the 204 beneficiaries of the initiative in Mali (in Sikasso and Koutiala), one participant commended WADPN for its work and reckoned that PWUD hardly benefits from such packages. “Before the WADPN funding came, we hadn’t received support for the fight against COVID-19 because we were ignored by everyone. This WADPN funding has allowed us, drug users, in Sikasso to know more about what COVID-19 is all about; we have learned how to protect ourselves and our colleagues”.

Another participant thanked WADPN for the support: “What WADPN does is not only good for us drug users, but for everyone because we also have families and other friends who don’t live in ghettos. We now have a good understanding and adoption of the barrier gestures and are reaching out to other friends across the city. I thank WADPN very much for this donation”.

Join West Africa Drug Policy Network!

What should WACSI’s readers remember about WADPN and its work? To this question, Prince Bull Luseni replied by emphasising the need to decriminalise drug use and to consider PWUD as humans rather than criminals. “People who use drugs need help, they need support and they don’t need to be punished because they take drugs or because they are addicted to drugs. And the only way you can help them is to consider drug use as a public health issue and not a criminal justice issue”.

Do you agree with this statement? Are you an individual or organisation interested in drug policy reform? If yes, please register on WAPDN website accessible here to join the network and benefit from funding opportunities for research, advocacy and training programmes.

About WADPN: WADPN is a network of individuals and civil society organisations with various expertise in human rights, public health and criminal justice among others. They lead evidence-based advocacy efforts for drug policy to be rooted in human rights, public health and sustainable development and to reform outdated drug policies.

About the author

Yse Auque-Pallez holds a Bachelor in Social Sciences and Philosophy from Sciences Po Paris and La Sorbonne Paris IV since 2018, she is a Second Year Master's degree student in International Development with African Studies and Project Management Majors at the Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA - Sciences Po).


Yse Auque-Pallez

Yse Auque-Pallez holds a Bachelor in Social Sciences and Philosophy from Sciences Po Paris and La Sorbonne Paris IV since 2018, she is a Second Year Master's degree student in International Development with African Studies and Project Management Majors at the Paris School of International Affairs (PSIA - Sciences Po).

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Fiifi is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Communications and Information Officer at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. He joined the Institute in December 2020.


Nancy is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Programme Officer in the Knowledge Management unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. She joined the Institute in January 2021.


Agnes is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Head of the Administration unit in the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2021.


Doris holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social sciences (Economics and Sociology) from the University of Cape Coast. She is passionate about impacting young lives hence co-founded Impart Foundation. A non-profit organization which seeks to empower young lives through education, technology and entrepreneurship.


Prince Akowuah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Assistant in the Translation Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


Maxwell Apenteng is a Ghanaian and joined WACSI in September 2010. He provides gardening and janitorial services at the Institute.


George Adu-Mintah is a Ghanaian and currently the Protocol Assistant/Driver at the West Africa Civil Society (WACSI). He joined the Institute in October 2006.


Ibrahim Kwaku Gbadago is a Ghanaian. He joined the Institute in 2008 and provides janitorial services and assisting the institute's errands. Before joining the Institute, he worked at the Palestinian embassy in Accra, Ghana.


Ruth Yakana is from Cameroon and currently the Receptionist at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


Bethel is a Ghanaian. He provides technical and IT related support to the Institute. He joined the Institute in October 2006.


Whitnay Segnonna holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Management from the University of Benin. With 2 years of experience, she has a strong knowledge of organizational and project management. Combined with her bilingualism, she is very passionate about her work. She joined WACSI as Project Assistant on Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) for the Capacity Development Unit.


Stella Yawa Wowoui holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Translation Studies. She has a perfect grasp of both French and English, as well as an intermediate level in Spanish. She is currently working as a Project Assistant on the Techsoup Project.


Kwame is an experienced IT Consultant/Software Developer. He is skilled in Web Applications Development, Digital Security, Database Management, Digital Marketing and Brand Management. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Information Technology and is a Microsoft Programme Alumni. He is currently serving as a Marketing and IT Officer on the Techsoup Project.


Grace Akpene Ziggah is a Togolese and currently the Logistics Officer and also assists in administration duties at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in June 2009.


Lilian Dafeamekpor is a Ghanaian and currently the Assistant to the Executive Director at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


John P. Frinjuah has expertise and interests in civil society, international development, democracy and governance, conflict, crisis, and security. He has extensive experience working with civil society and international development organizations where he supported and managed research, programmes, and provided technical assistance on a variety of themes around public policy, governance, and development. He is an alumnus of the University of Ghana and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy - Tufts University in the United States, with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from two institutions respectively. John speaks English, French and several Ghanaian and regional West Africa languages.


Gervin has extensive international development experience, including 5 years of policy advocacy and capacity building of grass root organisations. He has implemented over the years a combination of agriculture value chain, livelihood, food security and governance and rights programmes.
Prior to joining WACSI, Gervin worked on two USAID projects focusing on agriculture value chain development and governance in northern Ghana
Gervin holds a master’s degree in development & Governance from the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany as well as a Masters in Global Studies from the Universities of Vienna (Austria), Leipzig (Germany) and California (Santa Barbara), USA. He is passionate social justice and inclusion.


Leandre Banon, Beninese, joined WACSI in September 2014 as Capacity Development Programme Assistant. Since then, he has worked in various units within the Institute to support operational and institutional capacity strengthening programmes for civil society in the region. Currently serving as Capacity Development Programme Officer at WACSI, his main responsibilities involve designing, planning, implementing and monitoring capacity development programmes for civil society constituents and grouping across the West Africa. Leandre is a certified Change the Game Academy Programme Trainer. His background lies in the areas of economics and development planning.


Samuel Appiah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Officer in the Finance and Administrative Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in May, 2016.


Jimm Chick Fomunjong, Cameroonian, joined WACSI in May 2018 as the Head of the Knowledge Management and Communication Units of the Institute. He has over ten years’ experience as a journalist and a development communications expert. He has a vast experience in supporting African organisations to strengthen their internal and external communications, building and sustaining relationships with the media and, leveraging on the power of social media to promote their mission. He is also excellent at supporting organisations to set up and operationalise functional communications and knowledge management systems. He has a deep passion and expertise in supporting Africans and African civil society organisations to document their praxis, share and learn from experiences documented from the African civil society sector.


Franck Sombo is a development practitioner with the drive to lead self and others to influence productivity and efficiency. His work involves supporting organisations to develop strategic plans, design monitoring and evaluation systems, develop and use relevant performance measurement tools to track progress, assess organizational growth and institutionalise learning. Franck has eight years of experience working with WACSI where he currently serves as the Head, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning. His academic qualifications include Masters in Organisations’ and Projects’ Management, and in Business Sciences and a High National Diploma in Finance and Accounting.

Franck is a Fellow of the International Program for Development Evaluation Training (IPDET) and a graduate of the Graduate Training Institute (GTI) - Ghana with specialization in Strategic Management and Corporate Leadership. He has a rich experience in Project Management, Capacity Development, Strategic planning, Data Analytics, Monitoring and Evaluation, Training and Facilitation, Mentoring and Coaching among others.


Omolara is a development practitioner and advocacy strategist with over 15 years of progressive experience in development programming targeted at strengthening civil society in West Africa.

She joined WACSI in November 2009 as a Regional Advocacy Consultant and later became the first Policy Advocacy Officer of the Institute in 2010.

She was promoted to Head of the Policy Influencing and Advocacy (PIA) Unit in 2015. As the Head of the PIA unit, Omolara offers strategic direction to the Institutes’ ambitions to connect and convene groups of organised and organic civil society actors; and influence regional and global discourses on crosscutting policy issues including—civil society regulations, sustainable development goals, civic space and enabling environment, aid effectiveness, gender equality, and civil society accountability.

Previously, Omolara served as a Programmes Associate with the Women in Peace and Security Network-Africa (WIPSEN-Africa), where she worked with her team to design and implement pan-African programmes on—multidimensional peace support operations and gender mainstreaming in security sector reform in Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

She also served as a Service Development Marshal at TVQ Consulting Group, a customer service firm focused on designing strategic customer relationship and business growth plans for private and public financial institutions in Nigeria.

Omolara is a social justice advocate, a network weaver, and a convener. She has a postgraduate degree in Peace and Conflict Studies; a degree in International Relations and History, from the University of Ibadan and Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria respectively.

She also holds executive certificates in Behavioral Science in Public Policy from Harvard University Executive Education in Cambridge and in Citizen Advocacy from the Coady International Institute, St Francis Xavier University in Canada.


Kwabena Kroduah is a Ghanaian and currently heads the Finance Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in January 2008.


Charles currently serves as the Head of the Capacity Development Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). Charles has over 10 years of experience working in international development and social justice issues in Africa. Charles has expertise in strengthening civil society and public agencies including the design and implementation of governance and leadership programmes, development of knowledge pieces and policy advice. Charles was the founding Board Chair of Innovation for Change (i4C)-Hub Afrique, as well as the founding member of the International Consortium on Closing Civic Space (iCon), an initiative of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC. Charles currently serves as the Member of the Governing Board (Coordination Collective) of Africans Rising. He is a Member of the Development Studies Association, United Kingdom. Charles is a 2017 Stanford University Fellow for Nonprofit Leaders and a certified Change the Game Resource Mobilisation Trainer.


Nana Afadzinu is a Ghanaian and currently serves as the Executive Director of the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2010.