Drugs and HIV prevention: Niko’s story from Mombasa

The first love of Niko’s life is his two-year-old son, Sammy. His other love, which fights a daily battle with the needs of his son, is heroin. The Drug Abuse Rehabilitation And Treatment (DARAT) project in Mombasa, reaches people with HIV prevention information to reduce risk of HIV among injecting drug users. Niko tells the story in his own words.

“I’ve been an injecting drug user for 12 years, and it has caused all sorts of problems. My wife doesn’t trust me. She thinks I will take all the money I earn (as a tout for minibuses) and spend it on drugs. I have stolen property, and sold it to get money and drugs. My brothers and sisters are getting ahead in life, and I’m not.

"I want to tell people that a good life is a life without drugs.”

— Niko

The main thing that makes me feel ashamed is Sammy. Yesterday he needed treatment for a burn and I didn’t have the money to pay for all the medicine he needed. I have tried to stop using drugs but it was just too hard without medical help. People don’t want to help if you are addicted; the stigma against drug users is very bad. Many people think I am wicked but I think I need treatment. Everyone who knows me says I am a good person but at the bank they think I am a junkie.

I met Isaiah, a field worker from Darat (Drug Abuse Rehabilitation And Treatment project, that works with drug users on HIV/Aids prevention and is funded by KANCO, pictured, left) Isaiah goes to places where drug users meet and take drugs, talks to them about HIV prevention, and carries out counselling and testing. He tested me for HIV and I was negative. That’s because I have never shared needles. With drug use it’s easy to get HIV if you have no knowledge about how it’s transmitted, that if you share needles you can get infected.

Most people don’t know that and most drug users share needles. When I learned about HIV, we were only told it was transmitted through sex, but people should know you can get it through injecting drugs too. Luckily I have never shared needles and I don’t now. I am going to make very sure I don’t get HIV.

I buy packets of sealed needles from the chemist and use each one twice. They cost 50 shillings (around 50p). My health is ok but I really hope to quit one day. I knew someone who did rehab and it worked. He’s now helping society, counselling people, telling them the effect taking drugs can have.

But Darat can’t pay for rehab. At the moment only kids whose parents have the money to pay can put them in rehab. Sometimes the kids don’t really want to give up. I do want to give up. I am worried about my son. I don’t want him to see me taking drugs. My dream for him is that he can have an education, be a good person. I want my son to respect his father. And I want to tell people that a good life is a life without drugs.”