More than 90 percent of the world’s 16 million injecting drug users are offered no help to avoid contracting AIDS, and governments that ignore them risk a spiraling public health crisis, drugs experts said on Monday.
Injecting drug use is an increasingly important cause of HIV transmission in many countries around the world. Users can spread the virus in blood by sharing needles with an HIV-infected person, and pass it on by having unprotected sex.
Of the estimated 16 million injecting drug users worldwide, 3 million are thought to be HIV-positive, and drug users are thought to account for 10 percent of all those living with HIV.
“Although the number of countries with core HIV prevention services is growing, the level of coverage in injecting drug users is poor in many countries,” said Bradley Mathers of the University of New South Wales, Australia, who led a study on prevention efforts published in The Lancet medical journal.
Infection prevention steps like providing needles, condoms and substitute drugs like methadone — collectively known as “harm reduction” — are seen by many experts as key to halting the spread of HIV and AIDS, but some governments are reluctant to provide them for fear of being seen to condone drug use.
UNAIDS estimates that around 30 per cent of HIV transmission outside sub-Saharan Africa is driven by unsafe injecting practices.