By Etenesh Abera @EteneshAb
Addis Abeba – Sister Yirgedu Habtu, the founder and owner of New Life Addiction Rehabilitation Center, also known as ‘Addis Hiwot’ Addiction Rehabilitation Center, is the 2015 recipient of the Ethiopian Health Ministry’s Ethiopian Role Model Nurse of the year award. Sr. Yirgedu says that the recognition inspired her in several ways to produce something that would benefit the generation. She recalled, in tears, during the acknowledgement of her achievement as a nurse over the last 39 years at various phases of her career.
Addiction, according Sr. Yirgedu , is defined as being dependent on anything that prevents one from working, eating, and interacting with people without using it. In other words, “when you are barred from going about your daily routine because of it”. The mother of four says she was inspired to start the center after her youngest son was free from his addiction. New Life Rehabilitation Center assisted more than 400 outpatient and 300 inpatient drug and alcohol addicts in its first four years of operation.
“We admit patients with severe addictions, and during their 60-day stay, they receive intense follow ups and occupational therapy including physical exercise and personal hygiene self-care skills, which they would not do as often as required.”Sr. Yirgedu
Sr. Yirgedu describes how patients receive a variety of therapies during their time in the center to assist them overcome their addictions. Speech therapy is the first form of assistance they receive from psychotherapists at Saint Paul›s Millennium Medical College, who comes twice a week to see them. During the speech therapy, individuals are encouraged to speak out their feelings, symptoms they are experiencing and their expectations about their time in the center.
There are also group discussion sessions where participants can share their challenges, experiences, and progresses with their situations. Another type of treatment that largely involves the patients in the facility is volunteers who share their experience of how they are attempting to overcome their addiction. “We admit patients with severe addictions, and during their 60-day stay, they receive intense follow ups and occupational therapy including physical exercise and personal hygiene self-care skills, which they would not do as often as required. They are also encouraged to participate in reading activities,” says Sr. Yirgedu. Individuals suffering from addictions, who are being treated, according to Sr. Yirgedu, may come along and refuse to stay at the center after they start the follow up.
“One of the shortcomings of the center is its lack of gender sensitivity. Only male patients are admitted to the center, and it is impossible to accommodate both genders. There are needs to have a separate center for female patients because the problem is multilayered for females in terms of societal and cultural challenges,” explains Sr. Yirgedu pointing out one of the major challenges they face. Sr. Yirgedu underlines the support they need from stakeholders to establish a rehab center for female patients. “Female drug addicts are vulnerable to gender-based violence, including rape, ending up on streets, and others very serious consequences come along with the problem,” she elaborates. Sr. Yirgedu’s center does have female outpatients receiving therapy, but it could use critical support to double its support to women patients.
Patients are also brought from the rehab center’s partnered treatment center at Saint Paul’s Millennium Medical College and from other organizations in need assistance. At the moment, the center’s capacity to admit patients is limited to only twelve, with others placed on the waiting list.
Regarding the number of patients suffering from drugs and other addictions, Sr. Yirgedu stated that the number is steadily increasing. “We are looking into trends because the number of addicts is on the rise”, she said, adding that it is better to focus more on prevention rather than only treating people who are recovering from addiction. “We basically classify the youngsters into three groups: those who have never taken drugs, those who are on trial, and those who are already in it,” she continues. Therefore, it is preferable to focus on prevention in order to save the first and the second groups, which account for a larger proportion of the population and require less effort to address and control drug addiction vulnerability in its earlier stages and before any further complications, rather than the rehabilitation treatment, which would require a significant amount of resource and attention.”
“I am aware that those who work in the medical sector are susceptible to medical drug addiction. I would have been dead by now if I hadn’t joined the rehab centers”*Solomon
It is difficult to pinpoint the actual cause of addiction. In Sr. Yirgedu’s perspective, “Marriage troubles, family addictions, and other triggering personal factors are often mentioned individually.”
The most challenging difficulty for those in the rehab center is not convincing them to be addicted in the first place; rather the possibility of relapse as they return to their regular lives. Patients need ongoing family support in order to keep away from drugs and places of vulnerability.
“I am not a wealthy person, I am just a mother whose son survived from addictions, and here on my effort to help others, I am calling on stakeholders and individuals to collaborate with us to spare the future generations,” Sr. Yirgedu said in her closing remarks.
Solomon (real name altered), a father of one, has struggled with drug addiction for the last 20 years. “I have been working as a pharmacist in a hospital in the western part of the country. I was on the verge of succumbing to my addictions, which may have resulted in suicide,” he said. According to Solomon, he became addicted to medical drugs with the help of a colleague who passed away due to overdosed drug injection years before. He added that he is currently being treated and he is gradually recuperating from his addiction after being admitted to Saint Paul›s Millennium Medical College rehabilitation center and New Life Rehab for about 45 days so far.
“I am aware that those who work in the medical sector are susceptible to medical drug addiction. I would have been dead by now if I hadn’t joined the rehab centers,” says Solomon. He is grateful for the help he is receiving from New Life Rehab Center, and particularly from Sr. Yirgedu who is making a difference in his life. “When I joined this center, it was surprising to me that I could receive such a treatment in here,” he continued, “Sr. Yirgedu is a mother to us in different ways and I am very grateful for the support.” He described the support from the center as life changing. AS
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on Addis Standard’s print magazine of the February 2022 edition.