The burden of drugs and alcohol

Substance abuse refers to the harmful or hazardous use of psychoactive substances, including alcohol and illicit drugs. One of the key impacts of illicit drug use on society is the negative health consequences experienced by its associates. Drug use also puts a heavy financial burden on individuals, families and society.

Alcohol and drug addiction in most cases affects the youth.

According to Rwanda Biomedical Centre (RBC), a mental health survey that was carried out in December 2018 showed that 1.6 per cent suffered from drug and alcohol related disorders.

Experts say that after sometime of consumption, the users always develop different disorders, especially mental health problems.

Emmanuel Ntakiyisumba, a nursing coach at Ndera Neuro-Psychiatric Hospital, says that users can also suffer other health complications, including cancer, and problems related to the digestive system, among others.

He says users are also likely to suffer depression and other hysterical troubles; behavioural problems which can lead to deadly circumstances, like HIV infection, for example.

The youth are encouraged to be at the forefront of the fight against substance abuse. /Net photos


According to Dynamo Ndacyayisenga, the in-charge of management of alcohol and drug use disorders at RBC, says when it comes to drug and alcohol prevention and control, they come up with a policy, after which the execution of this policy regarding mental health issues connected to alcohol and drug abuse is carried out.

First of all, he says, they put across prevention measures, and they do this by conducting awareness—targeting different categories of people, especially the youth, all over the country.

He says they are doing so because these substances pose a great risk to people’s health and society in general.

Going by the statistics received in health facilities (health centres and referral hospitals), the problem is yet to be curbed, he says.

He notes that although there is awareness of alcohol and drug abuse, there are still challenges due to lack of information—there is still a big number of people abusing illegal drugs.

“There is need to conduct sensitisation and awareness, and most importantly, working with everyone to combat the problem,” Ndacyayisenga says.

Another measure aside from prevention, is that the Ministry of Health also frequently supervises health facilities, especially those that specialise in the management of alcohol and drug use addiction.

Centres where addicts can get rehabilitation are also available.

The Ministry also carries out campaigns with local leaders in districts, villages and cells. This is to make sure they reach as many people as possible.

“This concentration is important so that the information is also received by the leaders, who can help fight drug abuse,” he says.

The system has been built in those areas (cells, villages and districts) so that they do the work themselves. However, what the Ministry is doing is capacity building, so that they are aware of what is needed to carry out activities as far as alcohol and drug prevention is concerned.

Ndacyayisenga explains that they set up what is called District Task Force in charge of prevention of substance abuse, which is spread up to cell and village level; where local leaders tackle specific issues.

The aim is for everyone to participate in fighting substance abuse.

The Ministry of Health is doing this in partnership with several backers, including the Ministry of Justice, Local Government, Gender and Family Promotion, Youth, Rwanda National Police, Ministry of Defence, among others.

The Ministry is also working with faith-based organisations.


In collaboration with the Ministry of Education, RBC has an anti-drug use club in schools which helps pass relevant information concerning drugs to learners.

Since 2013, they’ve been conducting awareness campaigns in schools but there was a need to come up with clubs.

There is a module under which students in these clubs conduct sensitisation in their schools and others.

Ndacyayisenga explains that students are encouraged to carry information about the dangers of alcohol and drugs to other members of their community.

Media is also a key partner in delivering information to the public, Ndacyayisenga says.


Experts say everyone is encouraged to stay away from drugs but there are still so many cases of people abusing them.

Aside from sensitisation, law enforcement must be implicated.

Recently, the Ministry of Health conducted a session categorising the drugs according to their severity— severe, mild and moderate.

The category is applied in the punishment of the dealers.

Ntakiyisumba says fighting substance abuse is hard, even with awareness, there are still many users in rehabilitation centres and hospitals.

Combined effort is needed to fight the problem.

Ndacyayisenga says the private sector should also get on board and help in the fight. Although there is a survey on people consuming drugs, it only focuses on the ailments.

“There is need to find out the number of users and the reason why they are using them,” he says.

Research conducted in 2012 by the Ministry of Youth and University of Rwanda’s College of Medicine and Health Sciences, stated that more than 50 per cent of youth consumed one or more drugs, 4.8 per cent were hooked on cannabis, and 7.6 per cent on alcohol.

He says this is a big number and it’s important to carry out research to find out why these people use drugs.

He says more people are aware that alcohol and drug abuse is a problem, which is a great achievement, but more needs to be done.

Due to this awareness, many users consult physicians because of health-related problems, which, Ndacyayisenga says, is also an achievement.

“Previously, drug users would carry their own burden, unlike today where many people are involved and willing to get them the help they need,” he says.

The partnership with many bodies has also aided the fight against substance abuse.

“Today, physicians manage disorders related to alcohol and substance abuse from health centres to referral hospitals,” he says.

He adds that because of the campaigns, dealers are arrested more often, making it hard for consumers to access them.


I think using celebrities to act as role models to the youth is important. Youngsters can learn from these people, as they tend to emulate their behaviour.

Deo Jyamubandi, Kigali resident


There is a need to find out why a big number of the youth are abusing these harmful drugs. Some need help, not just from people around them, but psychologists, because there could be other underlying problems.

Joy Umutoni, Kigali resident


Parents and teachers should play a big role when it comes to educating the youth. They should talk to them and also let them share their opinions. Some resort to this kind of behaviour because no one listens to them.

Gladys Nirere, Youth leader - Gasabo District


It’s important for parents and guardians to know the kind of groups or people their children hang with. In case of any problem, they should find out the cause.

Jean Paul Makuza, Student


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