More HIV Infections Linked To Injection Drug Use In East Africa, Report Finds

A growing number of HIV infections in East Africa are linked to injection drug use (IDU), according to a new report (.pdf) from the Center for Strategic and International Studies, VOA News reports (DeCapua, 4/29).

CSIS sent a team to study the issue in Kenya and Tanzania “to better understand the dimensions of the IDU-driven HIV epidemic in those two countries and to look at how U.S.-supported programs through PEPFAR are helping shape a response,” according to a report summary (4/29).

Report co-author Lisa Carty, deputy director at the CSIS Global Health Policy Center, said, “Globally, we know that [injection drug use] is quite a serious problem. And we know that one in every three new infections is attributable to injecting drug use. We know that in Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the former Soviet Union, it continues to be the major driver of the epidemic there. What we’re seeing happen on a parallel track is that in many countries, where the new HIV incidence is starting to stabilize and level off, that the proportion of IDU-related infections is continuing to increase,” VOA News reports.

Phil Nieberg, senior associate with the Global Health Policy Center and a co-author of the report, said needle sharing and women engaging in sex work to help pay for drugs are helping to spread the virus, VOA News continues. Injection drug users, as well as sex workers and men who have sex with men, often “go underground or hide” to avoid interaction with law enforcement officials, which takes them further from prevention and treatment programs, the news service writes.

Both authors said “treating addiction as a disease instead of a crime” could allow additional drug users to seek help through counseling, needle and syringe exchange programs, or other harm reduction efforts such as methadone substitution therapy, VOA News reports (4/29).

The team concluded that “recent changes in U.S. policy and guidance that have focused on the linkage of HIV transmission with IDU are playing an important role in helping move the HIV prevention and IDU treatment policies and practices of both countries toward a more evidence-based and effective approach,” and recommended several additional measures that could be undertaken to improve the impact of programs, according to the report (April 2011).