THE drugs trade is flourishing in Africa - the seizures are enormous and drug-related deaths are getting higher. Last week, Kenyan forces seized heroin worth about $155 million off the coast of Kenya, in July Kenyan police seized 342kg of heroin in the coastal town of Mombasa - allegedly worth about $12.5 million.
A few months earlier the Australian navy found heroin worth $268 million hidden in a dhow off Kenyan waters. This gives a combined total seizure of approximately $435 million worth of heroin alone off the Kenyan coast in just over six months.
Africa has historically held a marginal role in consumption and transportation of illegal drugs. However, in recent years the continent has increasingly become the hotspot for drug trade. Since 2006 the global use of illicit substances has been on the rise, increasing from about 4.9% of the population between the age of 15-64, about 200 million people around the world, to 7%, by the high estimate, or close to 300 million people according to the UNODC statistics.
The same estimate indicates that in 2012 roughly 183,100 people died due to drug-related causes out of which 36,800 or 20% were in Africa. It is surprising to see such a large proportion of fatal accidents on the continent which has never played a major role in illegal drug trade and, according to the report, has low consumption of all drugs except cannabis, which is above average - but is not deadly.
A recent study in Cape Verde (2012) implies that 7.6% of African population has tried an illicit substance at least once in their lifetime. Compared to the world average trends; 8% of United States population in the same age bracket used an illegal drug in the last month, cannabis consumption in Europe has a prevalence ranging from 10 - 44% and regular cocaine users in Spain and UK are estimated at 4 - 6%.
Why is Africa responsible for 1/5 of global drug-related deaths if its prevalence rate is so low? Is it the poorly equipped hospitals and untrained health care workers that are responsible for such high loss of lives? Or is it something else?