Stakeholders in the health sector have been challenged to consider harm reduction as a key guide in driving public health strategies in Africa. Harm reduction refers to interventions aimed at reducing the negative effects of health behaviours without necessarily extinguishing the problematic health behaviours entirely or permanently.
At the third yearly Harm Reduction Exchange with the theme: ‘Amplifying the voice of Harm Reduction advocacy across Africa’, the President of the African Medical Association and the Association of Medical Councils of Africa, Dr. Kgosi Letlape tasked African governments to adopt harm reduction approaches when regulating public health challenges.
He said harm reduction is a more transformative strategy than prohibition-based policies and is better than simply advocating for complete abstinence, adding that harm reduction is a better approach to reducing tobacco-related death and disease.
“Harm reduction is a practical and transformative approach that incorporates community driven public health strategies including prevention, risk reduction, and health promotion to empower people who use drugs and their families with the choice to live healthy and self directed,” Dr. Letlape said.
He expressed the hope that lobbying efforts will spark renewed conversations on tobacco harm reduction among all stakeholders, including regulators and policymakers, which could lead to effective regulation and access to noncombustible product alternatives for adult smokers who are unable or uninterested in quitting.”
Across the world, he said, harm reduction strategies have been deployed in public health as a pragmatic and compassionate approach to address various issues, particularly in the context of substance use and other risky behaviors.
Some of these strategies, according to him, include Needle Exchange Programs, supervised injection sites, PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis), Nicotine Replacement Therapy (NRT), Vaping and E-Cigarettes, and supervised consumption of medications.