Science Forum South Africa

11h00 – 12h30, Thursday 13th December 2018, Ruby Room, CSIR International Convention Centre, Pretoria, South Africa.


There are over 52 million cannabis, 6 million amphetamine-type stimulant (ATS), 3 million cocaine, 2 million opioid and 1.5 million ecstasy (MDMA) users in Africa today. With a clear pan-African focus, this high-level panel will evidence how the goal of a ‘drug-free world’ backed up by a ‘war on drugs’ anchored in ‘science’ and enshrined in the international drug control treaties is both naïve and dangerous. Naïve, in that prohibition has had little impact on drug use with the number of consumers increasing, particularly in the developing world. Dangerous, in that prohibition fuels inhuman and coerced drug treatments, massive incarcerations, extrajudicial killings and the death penalty in contravention of international law.

This session unites leading medical, policy and civil society experts to examine the late Kofi Annan’s statement that “drugs have harmed many people, but bad government policies have harmed many more”. Taking examples of illicit and licit drug use such as cannabis and nicotine, the panel looks back in anger to question why lessons learned from the African HIV/Aids response are not being applied today. Country responses may differ, but the continental score card clearly reads ‘could do better’. The reflex to favour prohibition only stokes the spread of blood-borne viruses, drives human rights abusers for profit and contributes to the drug-related deaths of nearly 200,000 people annually. Strict drug laws have escalated public health crises including HIV, hepatitis C and tuberculosis epidemics. Prohibition also limits research about the possibly medical utility of illicit substances and builds obstacles to the prescription of pain relief and palliative medication, South Africa being a prime example.

Engaging the audience in open dialogue, the panel’s common aim is to advocate for greater empathy and challenge the way African societies view those that use drugs. They will demonstrate that the global scientific, regulatory and ethical picture from acceptance to partial and total bans is a mess. While South Africa and Canada explore regulated markets for cannabis or the UK considers free e-cigarettes on the NHS, increased violence and repression takes hold in places like the Philippines, Cambodia and Bangladesh. As experts for and against more humane laws mount onslaughts at the WHO, FDA and AU, evidence-based science is taking a back seat to policy-biased evidence.

Irish Flag Organiser:
Aidan Gilligan (IRL):
Founder & CEO, SciCom – Making Sense of Science; Elected Member, EuroScience Governing Board; Vice-Chair, ESOF 2018 International Media & Marketing Committee.
Canadian Flag Moderator:
Christophe Bourillon (CDN):
Executive Director, World Federation of Science Journalists.
French Flag Speaker: Harm reduction: both a concept for public health & a concrete set of life-saving interventions?
Prof. Michel Kazatchkine (FR):
Member, Global Commission on Drug Policy.
South African Flag Speaker: The HIV epidemic past & present: how key affected populations are being left behind.
Prof. Quarraisha Abdool Karim (SA):
JUNAIDS Special Ambassador for Adolescents & HIV.
South African Flag Speaker: Attitudes & contradictions to behavioural science, preventative medicine & tobacco control.
Prof. Solly Ratamaene (SA):
Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University (SMU).
Nigerian Flag Speaker: Analysing the best practices & pitfalls of the West African Model Drug Law .
Adeolu Ogunrombi (NG):
YouthRise Nigeria & West Africa Commission on Drugs (tbc).
South African Flag Speaker: Stock-taking the opportunities & challenges facing harm reduction efforts in Africa today.
Shaun Shelly (SA):
Policy, Advocacy & Human Rights Manager, TBHIVCARE.