According to UN statistics 37,000 people in Africa die annually from diseases associated with the consumption of illegal drugs. The UN estimates there are 28 million drug users in Africa, the figure for the United States and Canada is 32 million.
Dr Johan Strijdom from the drug prevention division of the African Union told DW what he expected from the conference. “Whatever plans we sort of come up with should address and contain the word accelerated access to treatment and prevention services,” he said.
The United Nations says the rate of consumption of illegal drugs in Africa is on the rise. But it insists it cannot supply specific figures, because records of drug consumption in Africa are incomplete. Gilberto Gerra is chief of drug prevention and health branch at the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, (UNODC). He said Africa's rising illegal drug consumption can be attributed to political instability as well as porous borders.
“West Africa is completely weak in terms of border control and the big drug cartels from Colombia and Latin America have chosen Africa as a way to reach Europe,” Gerra told DW.
He said West African countries such as Guinea Bissau, Liberia and others were becoming the target of these criminal organizations, which were taking advantage of the weakness of police and the lack of money and resources to use these countries for transit purposes.
“When you become a transit country, you are immediately also a consumption country,” the UN official added.
Youth most vulnerable
During the conference, young people in consumption countries were identified as the most vulnerable section of the population, especially those who were unable to resist peer pressure and start experimenting with drugs. Delegates also heard that young people from poor or unstable backgrounds may be tempted to see drugs as an escape from life's troubles.
Dr William Okedi heads the national authority for the campaign against alcohol and drug abuse in Kenya. He said ways need to be found to reduce the demand for drugs in Africa without necessarily relying on punitive measures.
“We need to educate our youth and the society at large about dangers of consuming drugs. Institutions frequented by youth like churches, mosques and universities should be actively involved in passing on this information," Okedi told DW.
He also recommended education ministries in Africa change the curriculum in schools to incorporate lessons on drug abuse.
“This is what we are going to insist on in this conference. Let no African government insist only on jailing of culprits,” Okedi added.
The meeting which ends on February 21, 2013 is being attended by drug experts from the United Nations, all African Union member states and law enforcement officers.