There is an urgent need for HIV prevention services for people who inject drugs in East Africa according to new research from the Burnet Institute and French non-government organisation, Médicins du Monde (MdM).
Head of Burnet’s HIV Research Group in the Centre for Population Health, Dr Mark Stoové, led the analysis and reporting of data collected by the MdM Harm Reduction Program in Dar es Salaam, the first of its kind in East Africa.
Dr Stoové spoke with ABC Radio National’s Health Report host, Dr Norman Swan about the study’s findings that he was presenting at AIDS 2012. Download the MP3 (at right).
With the number of people who inject drugs growing in Tanzania, Dr Stoové says there is a critical need to scale up HIV prevention and harm reduction services.
Their needs, however, are largely being ignored because of the huge emphasis on prevention of HIV transmission through heterosexual sex.
“The efforts of getting HIV sexual transmission rates down in East Africa could be undermined if more attention isn’t put towards these other high risk groups,” Dr Stoové said.
“Our research found that virtually none of the injecting drug users surveyed had ever received testing for hepatitis C (HCV), two thirds had not even heard of the virus and over half also had no HIV testing history.”
The study also found HIV prevalence among people injecting drugs in Dar es Salaam was about four times that of the general population and 73 per cent of those testing positive for HIV previously undiagnosed; a third reported they didn’t know where to access HIV testing.
Dr Stoové said low awareness of HCV and high HIV/HCV co-infection prevalence in Tanzania are of concern as HIV can accelerate HCV disease progression and future liver disease burden in the country.
“Injecting and sexual risk behaviours, undiagnosed HIV and HCV, and limited access to testing, condoms and clean injecting equipment demand urgent scaling up of prevention and treatment services targeting PWID in Tanzania,” he said.
Dr Stoové presented this work at the AIDS 2012 Conference in Washington this week.