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‘You are beautiful’: the Kenyan beauty parlour serving female heroin users | Global development




Naima Said stands back and studies her handiwork. “Not quite,” the self-taught beauty therapist mumbles, her forehead furrowed in frustration. Then she delicately dabs her client’s eyelid with a squishy makeup sponge. She’s not finished yet.

Several years ago Said, 31, used YouTube videos to train herself in everything from dying hair to pedicures. Now she runs the Beauty Corner – a small but perfectly formed parlour in Mombasa on the Kenyan coast. Every weekday at 8am, she lays out her equipment and waits for women to walk through the door. Like Said, those who seek out her services are addicted to heroin, or in recovery.

Housed in the Reachout Centre Trust, a Kenyan organisation that helps Mombasa residents to fight drug addiction, the parlour opened last year with the aim of attracting more female users to its services, which include HIV testing, counselling, methadone treatment and cervical cancer screening.

Said was a heroin user for 10 years. After her father ran out of money to pay for private school, she was at a loose end, she says. Aged 17, she started smoking marijuana with her friends. By 21, she was a “full=blown” heroin addict.

“I was half-dead, half-alive,” she says. “I started selling sex to pay for my next hit. On the streets, you need to look beautiful but I looked dirty. I was a junkie. People would see me and get scared.”

Elizabeth Yieko, a former addict

Elizabeth Yieko, 34, a former addict, gets her hair done. Today she helps find other customers for the beauty parlour. Photograph: Louise Donovan

Until recently, hard drugs – especially heroin – were rare in Africa. Since 2010, however, heroin use has increased faster across the continent than anywhere else in the world, according to the 2017 report of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).

There are two reasons. First, despite the billions of pounds spent by the US and its allies to curb the production of opium poppies in Afghanistan, the amount grown has seen an “almost continuous rise”, says Simone Haysom of the Global Initiative Against Transnational Organised Crime (GIATO).

In 2017, opium cultivation reached a record high (jumping 87% in one year). It has since fallen by 20% but Afghanistan still produces 82% of the world’s heroin.

Second, Africa has become an attractive drug transit route. Historically, most of the heroin trafficked to the west from Afghanistan came overland via the “Balkan route”. But after conflict and increased security made this path trickier to navigate, according to a report by the GIATO, smugglers took to the seas.

Since 2010 the “southern route” – also known as the “smack track” – has grown in popularity; heroin is trafficked from Afghanistan via the Indian Ocean into east and South Africa. From there it makes its way to Europe, Asia and North America. As more heroin has washed into east Africa, more people have become hooked.

“Instead of the drug just moving through the region, the region itself is now a destination,” says Haysom.

In 2017, the UNODC said heroin addiction appeared to be on the rise in Kenya, particularly along the coast. As east Africa’s largest port, Mombasa has borne the brunt of this increase, but usage has spread to other areas, including Nairobi and Kiambu county. Data is patchy, but it is estimated that between 18,000 and 55,000 Kenyans use heroin.

Heroin users prepare their fix  in Lamu, Kenya

Heroin users prepare their fix in Lamu, Kenya. Photograph: Goran Tomašević/Reuters

While help is available at more than 50 registered treatment and rehabilitation centres across the country, rehabilitation is rarely free. Women are falling through the cracks.

“Female drug users have very specific needs,” says Faiza Hamid, Reachout’s programme manager, “and their needs aren’t being met.”

A key problem is stigma: many participate in sex work to fund their drug habit (a single heroin dose costs between 150-200 Kenyan shillings, roughly £1.50) and this prevents them from accessing treatment. Concerns about childcare, hard-to-reach treatment centres and relationship issues – the women often live with a partner with their own substance problem – also stop many coming forward for help.

If women do seek out treatment, they are likely to drop out faster, and experience higher risks of HIV infection. Women constitute the minority of users, but experts say that the numbers on female drug use are underreported and likely to be much higher.

At the same time, there is a clear lack of services tailored to women’s needs and the majority of rehabilitation centres are aimed at men. While research on female drug addicts in Kenya is limited, studies have indicated that women enrolled in gender-specific treatment programmes have better outcomes and improvement than those who are not, according to the UNODC.

That is where the Beauty Corner comes in. “I talk to these girls,” says Said, Reachout’s first female methadone patient, who was chosen by the clinic’s director to manage the parlour after attending counselling sessions. She has been clean for five years.


“I say to them: ‘What you see on the outside is drug addiction, and self-loathing. You are beautiful. You’re a mother, a daughter, a sister.’ As I paint their nails, I say, ‘why don’t you start methadone? Why don’t you check your [HIV] status?’ When it works, it’s like magic.”

Lipsticks, nail varnish and hair-rollersat the Beauty Corner

Lipsticks, nail varnish and hair-rollers on display at the Beauty Corner. Photograph: Louise Donovan

The interior of the Beauty Corner

The interior of the Beauty Corner. Photograph: Louise Donovan

For years few female users showed up for Reachout’s services – they simply didn’t see the point of coming. “The women told me they felt everything at the drop-in centre was designed for male addicts,” says Hamid. “They already knew their HIV status, what more did they need?”

So she came up with the idea of the Beauty Corner. The aim was to get women through the door and to make them feel special – even for a short while – before bringing up other, more difficult issues.

It seems to be working. In under a year, 453 women have come to the parlour, and there has been a “big uptake” of women using the clinical services, says Hamid. Cervical cancer screenings, for example, have risen by 34%. Said now sees on average 15 women every day.

As the parlour fills up, a sticky midday heat settles in. Three women sit side-by-side, chatting quietly. One of them is 34-year-old Elizabeth Yieko, her hair a tangle of brightly coloured rollers. A former addict, she was introduced to the Beauty Corner by a friend.

“I could not believe it,” she says, after seeing her friend. “She was so clean, had makeup on, nicely done hair with red lipstick. I saw how women who have sold their lives to drugs can still have a life. I felt transformed.”

Yieko had already stopped smoking heroin. Today she visits hotspots frequented by female users to spread the word about the Beauty Corner. So far she has brought 10 women to the parlour.

Naima Said at home with her child Munira

Naima Said at home with her child, four-year-old Munira. Photograph: Tom Fondo

Said would like to do more. “I’m happy I’m helping people,” she says, “but it’s not good enough for me. I think about the future. What about life after the methadone? Where are we going to go? For people born and raised in the drug dens, their home is the drug den.

“We need to find a place for women.”

Louise Donovan is a Nairobi-based correspondent with the Fuller Project, a journalism nonprofit that partners with leading media to report on global issues impacting women. Angela Oketch is a health journalist with Kenya’s Daily Nation

This story was produced in partnership with the Guardian, the Fuller Project and the Daily Nation.



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3,000 take Covid-19 tests in Nairobi – Nairobi News




At least 3,000 Nairobi residents have turned out for the ongoing free Covid-19 mass testing. The testing is being spearheaded by the Nairobi Metropolitan Service (NMS).

The 11-day free mass testing was launched on Wednesday last week and already, 3,144 people have been tested in five days.

NMS Chief Health Officer Ouma Oluga said the turnout has been very impressive and that they are planning to scale up the tests to aim at more than 1,000 residents daily.

He stated that 703 people were tested in Eastleigh on Wednesday with another 427 tested in Dagoretti and Embakasi East.


On Friday in Embakasi East’s Utawala, some 1,002 residents were tested while 427 were tested in Embakasi West and on Sunday, a total of 585 residents were tested in Starehe Sub-County.
Dr Oluga said the testing is aimed at mapping out hotspots in Nairobi, where more effort in terms of public health measures is supposed to be directed to, as well as mopping out cases to stop community transmission by isolating positive cases.

“We are concentrating on informal settlements because they are difficult to manage [in terms of] access to water, proper sanitation, physical distancing and restrictions on movement as this is one of the best ways of preventing more transmissions,” said Dr Oluga.

He pointed out that initially, people were getting their results after 48 hours but now it is taking slightly more time because of the huge number of tests and the fact that other places in the country are also bringing their samples to Nairobi for testing.


“We do not announce the results at the county level. All the results are consolidated in a national laboratory registry office and it is only the Ministry of Health that announces,” he said.


Testing in Westlands will target people from Kangemi, Sodom, Bottom Line, Deep Sea City Park and City Park market.

Tuesday will see residents of Lang’ata and Kibera sub-tested at Undugu and Kamkunji grounds respectively.

On Wednesday, the testing will be in Kasarani Sub-County targeting communities around Santon and Hunters. Testing centres will be set up at Murema Primary School.


On the same day, residents of Githurai 44 and 45 in Roysambu Constituency will be tested at Githurai Primary School.

On Thursday, the community around Mathare 1, 2 and 3, and Naivas area in Ruaraka Constituency will be tested at Kwa DCC. Another team will also be in Lang’ata at Kwa Chief.

On Friday, the testing will be in Mathare Sub-County with Huruma, Kariobangi North and Korogocho residents being targeted. Another team will also head back to Westlands at Cheleta Primary School to test the community around Githogoro and Mji Wa Huruma.

On the penultimate day of the testing, residents of Bahati, Civil Servants, Makongeni, Jana Villa, and Jogoo Road in Makadara Constituency will be tested at Heshima Road Primary School with another team pitching camp at Muthurwa Primary School in Kamukunji Sub-County to test the community around Shauri Moyo, Majengo, Jua Kali, Burma, Gikomba and Muthurwa.

The testing will end on May 31 in Kamukunji at Maina Wanjigi Secondary School.



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China’s mask boom takes fabric away from nappy makers




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China’s ramp-up of mask production to counter the coronavirus outbreak has claimed unlikely victims — nappies, wet wipes and sanitary towels that are made with the same raw materials.

Manufacturers say textiles such as nonwoven fabric have been in short supply from being diverted to the more lucrative mask business, leaving producers of hygiene products high and dry.

Some firms have been forced to halve production or hike prices, with the industry expressing concern over the future of supply lines.

As the coronavirus pushed China into lockdown after surfacing in the central city of Wuhan in December, leaders embarked on a massive effort to produce enough masks for overwhelmed medical staff and the country’s 1.4 billion people.


But with everyone from carmakers to garment factories switching to mask production to meet demand, the cost of raw materials spiked, with no quick end in sight as the pandemic continues to wreak havoc worldwide.

“It’s not that we lack the capacity for production, but the costs are extremely high,” said Huang Tenglong, deputy general manager of diaper maker Fujian Time and Tianhe Industrial Co.

“In January, the raw material for our diapers cost around 13,000 yuan ($1,820 per tonne) but at its peak, it went up to 140,000 or 150,000 yuan,” he told AFP, referring to a period late last month as global demand for masks surged.

Lin Yanting, deputy general manager of another nappy-maker DaddyBaby, said the cost of non-woven fabric remains around 50,000-60,000 yuan per tonne.

“A diaper uses more material than a mask but… I will only turn a profit if I use (the fabric) for a mask,” he said.

“In this environment, a lot of smaller producers cannot sustain… This affects people making sanitary pads, diapers, facial masks and other nonwoven fabric-based products.”

Huang’s firm, which employs around 400 staff, has halved its nappy production, reduced the range of products it makes and increased the sale price by up to 20 percent.

Some clients continue making purchases with fewer orders but more have paused completely, he said.

“I definitely hope that the pandemic will be over soon. Although we can produce protective gear as well, (the situation) is actually damaging to the overall economic system,” he said.

“At the end of it, we may have lost our main business,” he added, referring to hygiene products.


Shen Shengyuan, deputy general manager of nappy-maker New Yifa Group, said although his company has tried sourcing raw materials from abroad, air freight is a problem and a shipping time of over two weeks would be too long.

He said New Yifa had been taking fewer new orders and was struggling to fulfil existing ones because of short supplies.

Lin added that DaddyBaby is producing nappies at a loss now with the high costs, making up the shortfall with profits from its new mask production lines set up during the outbreak — an attempt to maintain stability in the market.

A manager surnamed Yang at Jiaxuan Household Items said it was “impossible” to obtain nonwoven fabric for other uses such as in household products, adding that her company had put production of other items on hold to make masks.

Shen said he was “worried” about an impact on supplies outside China.

“We simply haven’t been able to produce the goods,” he said, adding that half the company’s non-mask production used to be exported.

“Customers have been negotiating with us, saying they need us to step up production.”

But he estimates suppliers make 10 times more profit by putting raw materials to use in masks than nappies.

China Youth Daily reported that as of April 4, some 69,000 companies in China were involved in the mask business, with 19,000 of these coming into the picture after January 25 — days after Wuhan went into lockdown and the country saw growing restrictions to curb the virus spread.

The report added that China’s daily mask output has reached 450 million, compared with more than five billion for all of 2019.

Suppliers have been hard-pressed to meet demand.

“They have sufficient reason as well, saying local governments have requested for them to shift production to key anti-epidemic material,” Shen said.

He told AFP: “It is not a problem with our production capacity, but an issue with suppliers and China’s entire industrial chain.”



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WHO halts trials of hydroxychloroquine over safety fears




Testing of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a possible treatment for coronavirus has been halted because of safety fears, the World Health Organization (WHO) says.

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Trials in several countries are being “temporarily” suspended as a precaution, the agency said on Monday.

It comes after a recent medical study suggested the drug could increase the risk of patients dying from Covid-19.

President Donald Trump has said he is taking the drug to ward off the virus.

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The US president has repeatedly promoted the anti-malarial drug, against medical advice and despite warnings from public health officials that it could cause heart problems.


Last week, a study in medical journal The Lancet said there were no benefits to treating coronavirus patients with hydroxychloroquine, and that taking it might even increase the number of deaths among those in hospital with the disease.

Hydroxychloroquine is safe for malaria, and conditions like lupus or arthritis, but no clinical trials have recommended its use for treating Covid-19.

The WHO, which is running clinical trials of various drugs to assess which might be beneficial in treating the disease, has previously raised concerns over reports of individuals self-medicating and causing themselves serious harm.

On Monday, officials at the UN health agency said hydroxychloroquine would be removed from those trials pending a safety assessment.

The Lancet study involved 96,000 coronavirus patients, nearly 15,000 of whom were given hydroxychloroquine – or a related form chloroquine – either alone or with an antibiotic.

The study found that the patients were more likely to die in hospital and develop heart rhythm complications than other Covid patients in a comparison group.

The death rates of the treated groups were: hydroxychloroquine 18%; chloroquine 16.4%; control group 9%. Those treated with hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine in combination with antibiotics had an even higher death rate.

The researchers warned that hydroxychloroquine should not be used outside of clinical trials.



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