Whoonga: HIV antiretrovirals used as narcotics in South Africa
» More ways to bookmark this page
As it turns out the antiretroviral drugs marketed by multinational pharmaceutical companies as a treatment for HIV are actually highly addictive narcotics:
Whoonga, as it's known, is a substance being smoked in poor township communities around Durban, and it's popping up in other parts of the country as well.
Drug-taking is commonplace in the townships - what else do you do if you're unskilled, uneducated and unemployed, as so many are?
Backroom experimentation produces an ever-changing array of concoctions that offer a cheap and lethal high.
What makes whoonga different - a fine white powder, added to marijuana and smoked - is its composition.
It's a blend of detergent powder, rat poison and, crucially, crushed up ARVs, or antiretroviral drugs distributed free to HIV sufferers.
With South Africa finally making inroads in the battle against HIV and Aids after years of denialism, this is a dreadful blow.
Whoonga is cheap, bought from a dealer for just 20 rand or $3 a hit. But 40 per cent of all South Africans survive on little more than $2 a day.
The average jobless whoonga user needs multiple hits to get through the day, so for many crime becomes the only way to secure a regular supply.
Worst of all, it means people in need of ARVs to save or prolong their lives are sometimes going without.
They're being mugged for their pills as they leave the clinic.
Whoonga is basically just smoked ARVs, most commonly Efavirenz (brand name Sustiva & Stocrin). Regardless of media hype about how it's consumed and any supposed additives, television news footage clearly shows a crushed tablet being smoked in a handrolled tobacco cigarette.
And of course Whoonga is surrounded by all the drug-war-retoric about the use and abuse of recreational substances. But what the media has yet to mention, if these drugs are so addictive and destructive, surely there must be a better treatment for HIV?!