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International News

South Africans With AIDS Fear New Drug Crimes

March 21, 2011

Some HIV-positive South Africans are falling victim to thieves who steal their antiretrovirals, supposedly for use in the street drug called whoonga. Yet as such thefts increase, there is little evidence to suggest the ARVs are actually used in the drug.

The topic even rated mention by President Jacob Zuma at the opening a national substance abuse conference last week. "Experts from the University of KwaZulu-Natal have found that the whoonga does not contain ARVs, but is made up of heroin mixed with rat poison and other chemicals," he said. "Perpetuating such inaccuracies is dangerous, as it may make drug addicts steal ARVs, which would put the lives of people on treatment for HIV at risk."

Similar findings were reported by Anwar Jeewa, director of the Durban rehabilitation center Minds Alive. He tested six samples of whoonga obtained from different parts of the city: None had any trace of ARVs.

Jeewa does not deny that some drug users may be abusing ARVs, but he sees whoonga as more of a marketing phenomenon spawned by dealers long known to cut their heroin with other substances. "A few years ago, the same drug was called 'sugar,'" Jeewa said. "Brand names create an interest for demand."

Santosh Basdeo, a pharmacist in Durban's KwaMashu township, said whoonga may be "anything from a combination of ARVs to rat poison, things that you can buy over the counter at the pharmacy, things that you even have at home," so long as it keeps "the cost of the drug as low as possible."

Yet the perception that ARVs are an important part of whoonga continues to drive the thefts. "In the township, you see kids stealing the medication of their parents and selling it to the people who make whoonga," said Nonhlanhla of KwaMashu, whose own ARVs were stolen.

Back to other news for March 2011

Adapted from:
Agence France Presse

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
More News on HIV/AIDS in South Africa

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