The collaboration platform Reconstructed Living Lab (RLabs) has created a live counselling portal on mobile social network MXit called 'Angel'.
According to RLabs, the portal is for South African youth in need of substance abuse counselling, and is being released in conjunction with Drug Awareness Week (21 to 27 June).
Angel is available free of charge to all MXit users and offers support and information on varying degrees of drug abuse. RLabs says 12 counsellors are available to offer support to MXit users daily between 3pm and 6pm.
This initiative follows the release of a study by the National Medical Research Council (MRC) on youth risk behaviour. The MRC collected data from 10 270 grade 8 to 11 learners from 192 randomly selected schools countrywide. The data shows many children in this age group are using recreation drugs, and indicates an increase in the prevalence of drug use and binge drinking among the youth.
The study revealed 7.4% of these learners have used mandrax, with 6.7% and 6.2% of learners having used cocaine and heroin respectively.According to the South African Community Epidemiology Network on Drug Use, 36% of patients admitted to rehabilitation and treatment centres for substance abuse in the Northern Cape are aged between 10 and 19.
The head of RLabs, Marlon Parker, says the aim is to be able to reach and help as many of SA's youth as possible. “It makes sense to use a platform that is recognised and trusted among a very large number of SA citizens. MXit has over 20 million users and is completely committed to helping youth, so it makes sense for this to be the home of such an important mobile initiative,” he explains.
According to Parker, the information available on Angel includes descriptions and the effects of substances such as tik, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, marijuana, alcohol and even cigarettes.
This initiative is in line with the revised National Drug Master Plan 2006 to 2011, which was implemented during Zola Skweyiya's term as the minister of social development. Upon introducing the master plan, he said it was designed to serve as the basis for holistic and cost-effective strategies to reduce the supply and consumption of drugs and limit the harm they cause.
Angel comes at a time when the South African National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (SANCA) feels the misuse of substances by school-going youth is a cause for much concern.
SANCA's national executive director, Shamim Garda, says this service could serve a critical function as nowadays there are no guarantees learners will not choose to use drugs. ”If used in the right way, initiatives like this can influence learners by providing guidance and reasons for not using drugs.”
She says SANCA is always looking for ways to work with platforms like MXit, especially today where technology is constantly used to spread information.
Arthur Goldstuck, CEO of World Wide Worx, believes in future, counselling and other social services will increasingly be disseminated through social networks. “Our research has shown that the youth embrace social networking easily and their peers are using the network.”
Narconon, a drug prevention and rehabilitation centre in Johannesburg, believes this will bring positive results for SA's society. The centre believes the service will help to unearth the extent of substance and drug abuse among the youth in SA.
'Angel' also offers live advice and counselling for youths that are physically or mentally abused, suffer from depression, stress, HIV/Aids, and those who are finding it difficult to cope with difficult situations, including debt, RLabs says.
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