HIV Pills Stolen and Turned into Street Drug: Whoonga


In South Africa over 6 million individuals are infected with HIV with an estimated 700,000 of them on ARV or anti-retroviral treatment. In addition to the lack of funding and access for these life prolonging treatments, a new barrier has emerged, the threat of these very pills being stolen from those that need them and turned into a street drug called Whoonga. Whoonga is a highly addictive drug that is made from anti-retroviral drugs, combined with detergent powder as well as rat poison. It is typically used to lace joints to intensify the effects of marijuana and cause hallucinations. Whoonga costs 20 rand for a single tablet ($3; £1.70) and multiple hits per day are needed to maintain its effects."Doctors say smoking whoonga poses severe health risks including internal bleeding, stomach ulcers and in some instances death"

While Whoonga use has a dangerous impact on the lives of users, its threat to those trying to access their ARVs is great. In fear of being robbed, patients are now going in groups to collect their pills from clinics in areas such as the township, Umlazi. In a nation where ARVs are already a limited and critical resource, where more expensive alternatives may not be an option, it is essential those in need get the pills they need to survive.

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