AA&D reports: Protests in Durban following needle exchange closure

Durban, South Africa

On Tuesday, a group of over 50 people marched in solidarity along Durbans south-central neighborhoods, raising awareness of the citys recent decision to suspend the only legal needle syringe program (NSP) in Durban.

Led by a local branch of South Africas Network of People Who Use Drugs, this peaceful demonstration brought together members from civil society, the local university, drug users, media, and members of law enforcement to show their support for a critical public health program serving the entire community’s interest to be a healthy, resilient city.

As participants danced, raised their voices, and sang traditional isiZulu songs of struggle, several onlookers said that they too knew someone who has become sick or even died because of sharing needles.

The city stated that a trade permit must be issued before the program resumes activity. The concern suggested was that needles and other materials provided by NSP programs pose a health risk to the community and that a proper disposal plan must be outlined before the program is reinstated.

The NSP, started by Monique Marks, a professor and human rights advocate who heads the Urban Futures Center at the Durban University of Technology, has served as a critical resource for over a thousand drug users seeking clean needles, counseling, and peer support.

Following the march, members of the TB/HIV care network and the Urban Futures Center delivered a public statement and petition to the Mayor’s office requesting that the NSP be reinstated as a critical program to support drug users, their families, and the communities where they live and work.