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UK Drug Laws Used As Tool Of Systemic Racism, Says Ex-No 10 Adviser

UK drug laws used as tool of systemic racism, says ex-No 10 adviser

Britain’s drug laws are racist and cause “high levels of mental health harm” among black people, a former No 10 race adviser has said.

Simon Woolley said drugs legislation introduced 50 years ago had failed to cut the use, supply and harms associated with illegal drugs, and instead was used “as a tool of systemic racism”.

Despite white people reporting higher rates of drug consumption, black people were more likely to be stopped and searched for suspected drug possession and were more likely to be arrested, charged and imprisoned for drug offences, he said.

Lord Woolley, 59, who was appointed by Theresa May to chair the government’s race disparity unit’s advisory group and is now a crossbench peer, said the failure of UK drugs legislation was having a devastating impact on public health.

“It creates anxiety, stress and alienation that contribute to the high levels of mental health harm experienced across our black communities,” he wrote in the BMJ, as he appealed for doctors to speak out on the issue.

“For decades, politicians from all sides have either turned a blind eye to drug policy failures or weaponised the debate to score cheap political points,” he said. “This has led to half a century of stagnation, which has landed with force on our black communities, driving up needless criminalisation and undermining relationships with the police.”

Woolley, who this year became the first black man to be elected head of an Oxbridge college, is calling for a review of whether the Misuse of Drugs Act is fit for purpose. In his BMJ article, he urged the medical profession to support a root-and-branch review of the law to consider alternative approaches.

“Such a review should provide a comprehensive, independent assessment of the effects of the Misuse of Drugs Act and its fitness for purpose 50 years on,” he wrote. “It must also consider in detail the options for alternative approaches, including the growing body of evidence indicating benefit in both decriminalisation of people who take drugs and legal regulation of non-medical drug supplies worldwide.”

He said UK policy failed everybody, and black communities in particular. “Drug prohibition is racist in its DNA and in its impact on our society today,” he wrote. “It is rooted in a series of attacks, in the US, the UK and elsewhere, on non-white communities and the substances they were associated with, regardless of whether they actually took those drugs in high numbers.”

Drug-related deaths in England and Wales rose for the eighth year in a row in 2020. They remain at their highest level in more than a quarter of a century, according to the Office for National Statistics. Separate figures show Scotland continues to have the worst drug death rate in Europe.

Woolley said a punitive drug policy was “one of the most tangible and damaging means through which systemic racism is experienced in black communities”.

Describing the “profound dehumanisation” of stop-and-search tactics and strip searches, both of which he has experienced, he said: “You are stripped bare and have to crudely show that you have nothing hidden anywhere. The sense of being both powerless and humiliated instils anger and deep distrust in not only law enforcement but also the authorities that sanction it.”

Woolley added: “We have a growing literature on what works and what causes harm in drug policy, including how to tackle racial inequalities, which should inform policymakers. We need to base policy on the evidence, not fear and political inertia. We need a mature, informed and open debate on this topic, and we have to be prepared to discuss all options if we are to resolve the current crisis.

“Whatever our views on how we can do drug policy better, without a serious open and adult discussion – and without the key medical bodies actively supporting that debate – we will face more decades of stagnation and failure.”

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WHO announces global resurgence of cholera

The UN World Health Organisation (WHO) has announced a spike in cholera in several regions of the world, with almost 195,000 cases and over 1,900 deaths reported in 24 countries since the start of this year.

The agency’s Eastern Mediterranean Region reported the highest number of cases, followed by the African Region, the Region of the Americas, the Southeast Asia Region, and the European Region.

WHO, in a statement on Thursday, stated that there are no reported cases in the Western Region, according to its bulletin released on Wednesday.

The UN health agency said it exhausted its global stockpile of Oral Cholera Vaccines (OCV) by March but was able to exceed “the emergency target of five million doses in early June for the first time in 2024.”

Yet, the supply of the vaccine does not equate to its demand.

WHO reported that since January last year, 16 countries requested 92 million doses of OCV – almost double the 49 million produced during that time.

WHO, the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and other partners are working together to use resources to find long-term solutions for cholera.

On the positive side of health news, WHO announced on Thursday that Chad successfully eradicated “sleeping sickness” as a public health problem.

The agency applauded the Government and people of Chad for eradicating the gambiense form of human African trypanosomiasis, (also known as sleeping sickness).

“I congratulate the government and the people of Chad for this achievement.

“It is great to see Chad join the growing group of countries that have eliminated at least one neglected tropical disease (NTD),” Tedros Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said.

In eliminating the disease, Chad joining some 50 others globally that have succeeded in this endeavour.

“The 100-country target is nearer and within reach,” Ghebreyesus, added, referring to the target set out in the road map for address neglected tropical diseases by 2030.

Sleeping sickness can cause flu-like symptoms initially but eventually causing behaviour change, confusion, sleep cycle disturbances or even coma, often leading to death.

Improved access to early diagnosis and treatment, as well as surveillance and response has proven that countries can control and eventually eliminate transmission.

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Cholera outbreak: Lagos fatalities rise to 24 as Govt harps on hygiene

Lagos State has recorded additional three deaths, bringing the total number of fatalities recorded in the cholera outbreak to 24.

Commissioner for Health, Prof Akin Abayomi disclosed this on his X handle on Friday.

He disclosed that the suspected cases stand at 417, while there are 35 confirmed cases.

Abayomi urged residents to “adhere strictly to personal and environmental hygiene.”

The Special Adviser to the Governor on Health, Dr Kemi Ogunyemi, on Thursday, explained that Lagos Island, Kosofe, and Eti Osa recorded the highest number of the cases.

Ogunyemi was quoted to have revealed the figure while providing an update on the outbreak after meeting with members of the Lagos State Public Health Emergency Operations Centre.

According to Ogunyemi, the rise in cases was anticipated following the Ileya festivities, during which large gatherings occurred.

“Following the last update on the cholera outbreak in Lagos, which reported 350 suspected cases and 15 fatalities, the Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor on Health, Dr Kemi Ogunyemi, disclosed that the total number of cholera cases has increased to 401 across Lagos, with Lagos Island, Kosofe, and Eti Osa recording the highest numbers.

“Dr. Ogunyemi revealed this today while providing an update on the outbreak after meeting with members of the Lagos State Public Health Emergency Operations Centre. She added that the death toll has also risen to 21, an increase of six from the previously reported 15 fatalities,” the statement partly read.

The Governor’s aide stated that the government is maintaining rigorous surveillance and monitoring of the situation and implementing planned programs and activities to curb the spread.

“The Ministry of Health, in collaboration with the State Ministry of Environment and its agency, the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency, continues to collect samples of water sources, food, and beverages to identify the source of contamination. We have also intensified our surveillance activities in communities, particularly in affected local government areas, to address the situation head-on.

“We are also working with the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education as well as the Ministry of Tertiary Education to ensure all precautions are taken in our schools to protect children and scholars as they return. Residents must, however, remain vigilant, practice good hand hygiene, and participate in community sanitation activities to stop the spread of cholera,” she stated.

She advised that citizens seek medical attention immediately if they experience symptoms such as watery diarrhoea, vomiting, abdominal pain, general malaise, and fever, stressing that cholera treatment is provided free of charge at all public health facilities. Daily Trust

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Cholera: Kwara govt takes proactive measure to stem any outbreak

The Kwara Government has alerted healthcare surveillance teams across all the state’s 16 Local Government Areas (LGAs) on preparations and preventive measures against any outbreak of cholera.

Mr Gbenga Falade, the Chief Press Secretary in the Kwara Ministry of Health, told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Friday in Ilorin the Ministry had also commenced awareness campaign.

”This is through jingles on radio stations on the preventive measures against the disease and how people can protect themselves,” he said.

NAN reports that cases of severe gastro-enteritis have been reported in communities around Eti-Osa, Lagos Island, Ikorodu and Kosofe LGAs of Lagos State.

Falade explained that the state ministry has kept itself abreast of news and has taken proactive measures to stem any outbreak.

“The ministry will take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of its citizens,” he said.

Also speaking on preventive measures, Prof. Tanimola Akande of the Department of Public Health, University of Ilorin, advised Nigerians on proper sanitation in the form of proper faecal waste disposal.

Akande, who is also a Consultant Public Health Physician with University of Ilorin Teaching Hospital, (UITH), explained that other preventive measures includes food and water hygiene.

He described cholera as an acute diarrhoeal disease caused by vibrio cholerae.

According to him, it was a potentially life-threatening disease, primarily waterborne.

The expert stated that vaccination remained one of the most cost-effective measures in controlling cholera epidemic across the states.

“Vaccination is one of the cost-effective measures in the control of cholera epidemic.

“Cholera vaccination alone is not used for control of the epidemic of cholera,” he said.

Akande emphasised the need for preventive measures, including adequate food hygiene and water supply together with sanitation.

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