Drug users run the risk of harmful HIV transmissions

Mail & Guardian
Ina Skosana
Original Article:  bit.ly/1EL72uQ

An increase in the use of injected drugs, such as heroin, is putting drug users at risk of contracting HIV and other communicable diseases in sub-Saharan Africa.

New patterns of injected drug use in sub-Saharan Africa call for an increase in preventative efforts among this population which is at risk of HIV infection, according to a report by the United Kingdom-based nongovernmental organisation, Harm Reduction International (HRI).

The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States states that “substance use and abuse are important factors in the spread of HIV. Alcohol and other drugs can lower a person’s inhibitions and create risk factors for HIV transmission.”

HRI said in its Global State of Harm Reduction report, released on Tuesday, that although injected drug use has been documented in more than 150 countries, it is difficult to establish an accurate number for people who inject drugs. Globally, this form of drug consumption is estimated to be between 8.9-million and 22.4-million people. The number of people in this population group and living with HIV ranges from 900 000 to 4.8-million.

Harm reduction policies?The organisation, which advocates for the “prevention of harm [from drug use] rather than on the prevention of drug use itself”, estimates that HIV prevalence among people who inject drugs in Tanzania is 33.9%, 16.7% in Uganda, 9.1% in Senegal and 19% in South Africa.

A small number of sub-Saharan African countries have taken up harm reduction policies. Kenya and Tanzania, for example, have increased the number of places that provide drug users with clean needles and syringes. The aim of these needle syringe programmes is to prevent HIV or hepatitis C infection through the use of dirty needles.

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