Karoi is around mid-morning on Sunday and a group of about 30 youths are camped at HDK, one of busiest drug hubs in Chikangwe high-density suburb.
Some of the youths are smoking mbanje while others are sniffing glue. They are speaking at the top of their voices, as if competing with the loud reggae music playing from a nearby black tent.
One of the young men, identified only as Nomara, welcomes the NewsDay Weekender news crew as potential buyers.
On arrival at the ‘big tent’, everything looks junky, although the people present do not pay attention to it.
“Do you want chamba or cranko? You want us to die of hunger if you do not promote our business? There are no jobs out there,” said Nomara.
There are several young men smoking, and they are soon joined by five young women. Within a few minutes, five women in their mid-twenties also come to join the smoking sessions.
In no time, two of the women — who turned out to be commercial sex workers — get ‘connected’ with the youngsters and “disappear” from the scene apparently to pay for the drugs “in kind”.
“That is how we survive here. Some women cannot afford to buy drugs and we are paid through free sex. It is tough for everyone,” explains another young man.
At a few more houses in the area, illegal drug hubs are flourishing. One is called Pamatombo and another, Zupco, named after the defunct government bus company. The hubs also sell medical drugs and skin lotions.
As we approached these centres, alert runners give us descriptions of some ‘sophisticated’ illnesses including Sexually Transmitted Infections that are treated with medications they sell without any prescriptions.
During these economic challenges you can get 10 tablets for as little as 50 cents for different ailments including STIs, malaria and asthma. Many of the drugs are smuggled from Zambia.
The youths appear well-versed with prescriptions, as if they are professional pharmacists.
“We pay some police officers as part of security fees to operate, making it a thriving enterprise for us as unemployed youths,” said one youth at Pamatombo.
Funny Leo Magada, a child rights advocate and Icon Theatre Production director, expressed concern over the drug abuse.
“The police must be active in keeping drug sellers at bay as these are fuelling abuses among the youths,” he said.
An upsurge in STIs has been recorded in the district since January this year. According to the first quarter report presented during a stakeholders meeting facilitated by the District Aids Committee revelations are that productive age group is worst hit.
According to the report, 292 cases of STI infection were among 10 years and 24 years ages group while 650 people accounted for between 25 years and 49 years age group. This is the productive group of the nation.
“STIs are still a major challenge in the reduction of new HIV infections here. It is putting the sexually active population at risk,” says the report, adding that 63 (23 men and 40 women) STI clients tested HIV positive, presenting 7% positivity rate.
A Ministry of Health and Child Care official in the STI programme said it is unfortunate for the district.
“We are working closely with the Centre for Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Research Zimbabwe (CeSHHAR Zimbabwe) and Zimbabwe National Family Planning Council among others but it is disheartening,” said the official.
Hurungwe has the highest number of STIs in the province followed by Kadoma, Makonde and Chegutu according to sources.
Rudo Madanha (65) a local vegetable vendor blamed social conflict and improper guidance.
“All what we are witnessing is social and moral decay affecting us as a community. Some parents send children to be lodgers on their own in town without parental guidance,” she said.
A nurse who declined to be named alluded to STI infections to inter-generational sexual activities.
“Some young males engage in unprotected sex with older women hardly using protection. They hardly visit the clinics and hospitals for treatment. It is a big challenge,” she said.