By Lynn Sereya

A team from the Uganda AIDS Commission has completed a 4-day learning mission of the Medically Assisted Therapy (MAT) program, whose objective was to look at policies that have made the program in Kenya successful and gain insight into its implementation.  MAT uses medications to provide a “whole-patient” approach to treating substance use disorders in combination with counselling and behavioural therapies. MAT programs are clinically driven and tailored to meet each patient’s needs because people who inject drugs expose themselves to additional risks, including contracting human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), hepatitis B virus (HBV) and Hepatitis C virus (HCV).

Relatively New

Dr. Byamukama noted that the MAT program in Uganda was relatively new and did factor in people who inject or use drugs in their strategic plan, and now they are being factored in the new Strategic Plan of 2020-2025.  

The first MAT clinic in Uganda was established at Butabika Referral hospital but experienced several challenges such as adherence and retention, with a very small proportion being served.  

One of the biggest challenges countries face in establishing the MAT Program is legal and policy constraints. Kenya has put in place enabling policies and a legal framework that has resulted in the robust MAT Program, positioning the country as a perfect learning ground for her peers in the Region.

Multi-Sectoral Approach

During the mission, the team also learnt about the unique stakeholder engagement through a multi-sectoral approach that brings together the leadership of the country’s police and the prison services.  

Other insights included building a sustainable program well-integrated in the national system and innovations by making the program user friendly for communities that use drugs and those that run the risk of being left behind, including tailored programs for women who use drugs. 

Additionally, the team learned about how stakeholders plan their services and a routine that has enabled them to expand the services and reach as many people as possible. 

The team appreciated Kenya for unreservedly sharing knowledge and tools that would be useful to accelerate the Uganda MAT program and pledged to scale up the MAT Programme in Uganda through insights gained.

Dr. Daniel Byamukama, the Uganda delegation’s team leader, thanked all organizations that took them through their learning tour in Kenya, led by Dr. Ruth Laibon-Masha, Chief Executive Officer, National AIDS Control Council, particularly appreciating the wealth of information on the MAT program in Kenya.