Accessing MAT was like bringing the light in – Kemigisa’s story

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I am 27 years old and a mother of two kids, I am no longer addicted to drugs as I have been on methadone assisted therapy (MAT) for nearly a year now. The Uganda Harm Reduction Network saved my life and I am very happy. Whenever the month comes and I see my period it is the best feeling because I had spent nearly 5 years with no period because of using drugs. 

I remember very well what it was like when I started using drugs. I met a man at a bar, he was making me high and I ended up staying in his home for 6 months. The first time I used with that man, I sniffed heroin and threw up straight away. I became pregnant and he was drugging me the whole time. Praise god the baby came out healthy. The guy was saying if we produced a baby that was somehow disfigured due to my drug use, he would kill the baby. His parents then separated me from my kid, I was even in prison for almost 1 year and 3 months. When in prison I stopped using drugs.  I was in jail with my baby for 1 month, and then after they took my baby from me until I had served my sentence. 

When I came out of prison I was ‘clean’ but I was beyond desperate, and at that time I didn’t know how to get drugs. The man who introduced me to drugs was the one who used to bring them for me and I didn’t know where he got it from. One day when I went out in the city to a reggae bar and smelled heroin, I started to sniff it and ended up relapsing by starting to smoke it. 

I started pulling ropes with these parents of the man and you know when you don’t have power you cannot get what you want. I let them have my baby and I said fuck off to everything, and kept smoking. The man told me to let them take care of the baby and to take care of myself so that I don’t get HIV. He is still using drugs, but I know that I want to quit and will never ever smoke heroin or crack cocaine again. I want to be clean, to take that man to court and get my baby back. It has been nearly 3 years that they have her. Even if they send me pictures of her, it’s not enough. 

I also have a Danish son, I get to see him sometimes but I have been told that if I really want my son then I have to be settled, and not look like a ‘bitch’. I’m told that I have to look like a mother, do normal work and have a stable home. But at this time I cannot look like a real mum because if I don’t look like a ‘bitch’ (I’m a sex worker) and don’t get clients then I can’t pay to eat. I have to get clients to pay for my transportation to go and get my MAT in the hospital. But at least now I don’t meet clients to pay for my drugs. It’s much better to meet clients to have money for food and transport, and not for heroin.  

I use heroin, crack, and cocaine sometimes. Since the first time I started MAT, I never tasted crack or heroin again. I hated it, because you don’t think, you can’t even feel about your kids and your mum. I dress the way I do because it protects me, the person can be scared of me, and I don’t look like I can be taken advantage of. People fear me. 

This is my second chance, I’m lucky that heroin didn’t lead me to contracting HIV, and praise god that I always remember condoms. I get the condoms from UHRN. There is a PrEP problem in the country, as most healthcare providers only give you medicine for 5 days and not the whole bottle. They should give the whole bottle like UHRN does, because some people can’t come back each time they run out of 5 doses, as they live very far away.

One time I needed to make money to go to the MAT clinic and was meeting a client but the condom slipped off during sex and I became pregnant but I had to end the pregnancy. I felt so bad, cried so much. I want to be an artist and didn’t want another kid. I went to the Alliance of Women Advocating for Change and cried in front of them so much that they gave me 5 tablets for free, and it ended my pregnancy. Then at the MAT clinic they took me to get some help for family planning. 

What is paining me is that I am finishing the MAT soon and don’t know what is next. We are only allowed to take it for one year. My plan was to return home, even though I hate my father. I think my father can set me up with something. But I want to be an artist. When I was 12 they beat me and made a cut under my breast, telling me to first ask myself why this person is using drugs. They told me that when you remove the cause, you find the solution. 

UHRN set me up with MAT, helped me in times of need, and helped me when I had a black eye. It’s like being in darkness and then light comes. People fear doing the MAT because their dealers will come after them. They try to tell us to take the medicine and keep using drugs at the same time. People have overdosed because they are taking MAT and heroin at the same time, then died. The police should not arrest people and bring them to prison. They should bring them directly to the MAT clinic.


Photo: Kemigisa

Kemigisa’s story was compiled with support from YouthRISE. This story has been translated from Spanish and edited for clarity.