HIV infection 'bonus' for whoonga addicts
Johannesburg - For youths addicted to whoonga, an HIV infection is a “bonus” because it gives them access to the antiretroviral (ARV) drugs used in the mixture.
The drug efavirenz, which is prescribed under its brand name, Stocrin, to HIV-positive patients on ARV treatment, is one of the ingredients used to make whoonga.
Vumani Gwala runs Project Whoonga, a community organisation aimed at educating youths in KwaDabeka and Clermont near Durban about the dangers of drugs.
Clermont has been identified as the township with the highest prevalence of whoonga use and addiction in the country. Whoonga is sold there for as little as R20 and is popular among the 15, 16 and 17-year-old age group.
Gwala said its widespread use had led to a dramatic increase in crime in the township.
“To the addicts it’s a matter of life and death to get the drug. It does not matter how they get it,” he said.
Carol du Toit of the SA National Council on Alcoholism and Drugs in Durban said there had been a steady increase in whoonga use in the past six months.
Du Toit said although Stocrin had been widely used in whoonga in the past two years, it now appeared heroin was fast becoming the more popular choice.
She said whoonga sellers targeted economically depressed areas like informal settlements and townships with high unemployment and poverty levels.
Gwala said whoonga street sellers were very often “poor youth in the community and the best place for them to do business is schools. So our aim is to go to schools and teach about drugs. Basically we want to get to the child before the drug dealers do,” she said.
Still, Du Toit pointed out that while drugs like whoonga, nyaope and tik were a menace, alcohol still remained the biggest problem among South African youths.