Innovation Bridge & Science Forum South Africa
4 – 6 December, 2019, CSIR Pretoria:
High-Level Consultation Event: 13h30 – 15h00, Wednesday 4th December 2019

Spotlighting Lessons Learned from the Struggle, Challenge & Regulation of Drug, Alcohol & Tobacco Use


This plenary unites leading medical, policy and civil society experts to underscore the late Kofi Annan’s statement that “drugs have harmed many people, but bad government policies have harmed many more”. With so many Africans dying, why are the views of African scientists so rarely taken seriously by policy-makers inside Africa, let alone in most places of the world? And what chance has Africa’s civil or ‘uncivil’ society got to have its voice heard?

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.

Out of the 49 Sub-Sahara African countries, only 16 have data on injecting drug use. The most recent estimates show that 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. Yet, strict drug laws have escalated public health crises including HIV, hepatitis C and tuberculosis epidemics, while contributing to the drug-related deaths of 585,000 worldwide. For example, among the 2.3 million People Who Inject Drugs identified in Sub-Saharan Africa, 564,000 are living with HIV. While illicit drugs grab the headlines, not all drugs are treated equally. Legal drugs such as tobacco kills half its users, potentially 1 billion people alive today, while alcohol is predicted to kill half a billion.

The debate also kick-starts an open call for African stakeholders to come together to establish enduring principles and ethics to inform work at this critical boundary between science, policy and society. Claim and counterclaim of evidence-based policy versus policy-biased evidence are rife in Africa. This initiative stands to have considerable impact on the ways in which science advice is structured and delivered by Africans, for Africans. Its strength lies in a two-year reflection period and the robustness of its preparatory workshops leading up to the manifesto’s launch at the World Science Forum in Cape Town in December 2021. The collective aim is to boost understanding of how power operates in African science and policy. Harm reduction is chosen as the most relevant case-study to explore why evidence plus dialogue rarely equals good decisions and laws.

Panel Overview:

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11h00 - 11h05: Introductions

Prof. Himla Soodyall,
Chief Executive Officer, South Africa Academy of Science.
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11h05 - 11h25. Keynote Address

Harm reduction: the right thing to do for Africa and the world
Prof. Michel Kazatchkine,
Member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, Recipient of the 2018 South African Global Science Diplomat Award.

11.25 - 11.50: Panel Discussion

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  • Henrietta Bogopane-Zulu, Deputy Minister of Social Development (tbc).
  • Charity Monareng, Parliamentary and Policy Research Officer, TB/HIV Care, Cape Town.
  • Prof. Solomon Rataemane, Secretary General WAPR, Dr George Mukhari Academic Hospital (HOD), Dept of Psychiatry, Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University; Chair: Ministerial Advisory Committee on Mental Health.
  • Signe Rotberga, Programme Officer, United Nations Office on Drugs & Crime (tbc).

11h50 - 12h10: Audience Q&A

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12h10 - 12h25: Launching the Cape Town 2021 Declaration on Ethics & Principles of Science & Society Policy-Making

Explanation of the initiative by:
Prof. Michel Kazatchkine,
Member of the Global Commission on Drug Policy, Recipient of the 2018 South African Global Science Diplomat Award.
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12.25 – 12.30. Closing Remarks

Prof. Felix Dapare Dakora,
President, The African Academy of Sciences