Nations announced Tuesday a new initiative to expand HIV
prevention programs across Asia for intravenous drug users,
whose use of shared needles is one of the major
drivers of the disease in the region.
In some countries
in the region, IV drug users account for as much as 70%
of new HIV infections, and the increased use of heroin in
South Asia poses a risk that the disease will spread
further, three U.N. agencies said in a joint statement
at the International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the
''The time has
come to reach out to injecting drug users to step out of
the darkness of stigma together and demand an innovative
approach to HIV prevention that upholds their human
rights and dignity'', said Prasada Rao, the regional
head of UNAIDS.
In an interview
with the Associated Press, Rao said that intravenous drug
use was the second most common cause of HIV infections in
the region, where an estimated 5.4 million people are
infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.
When a disease
that can be sexually transmitted, such as
AIDS, starts among drug users, it usually leads to an
epidemic among a larger heterosexual population
three years later, Rao noted. ''The young people who
inject drugs--they also engage in multipartner sex,
and they get infected and pass on the infection to
their wives and girlfriends,'' he said.
UNAIDS statistics, countries across the region have reason
to worry about the spread of the disease from sharing
-In China, an
estimated 44% of the 650,000 people infected with HIV were
believed to have contracted it through injecting drugs.
-In Thailand, 3%
to 10% of IV drug users are infected each year.
-In Malaysia, the
most common risk factor for HIV infection is using
-IV drug use is
also a key factor in HIV transmission in Myanmar,
Indonesia, and Malaysia as well as in Afghanistan.
announced Tuesday, a joint effort between UNAIDS, the U.N.
Office on Drugs and Crime and the World Health Organization,
aims to increase prevention programs by providing IV
drug users with clean needles and access to substitute
drugs--such as methadone--that are not
injected. It will also provide HIV counseling, promote
condom use, and increase access to treatment programs.
According to the Asian Development Bank, a prevention
program targeting intravenous drug users could cost as
little as $47 for each life saved.
Phurailatpam, regional coordinator for the Asia Pacific
Network of People Living with HIV/AIDS, said many
countries' AIDS policies in relation to drug users
were deeply counterproductive.
which could prevent transmission of the disease, are often
not readily available, he said. In many places, syringes are
considered drug paraphernalia and as illegal as the
narcotics themselves, so few drug users risk exposing
themselves by getting new ones, Phurailatpam said.
countries, such as Thailand, needle exchange programs are
carried out by international aid groups because the
government refuses to deal with the issue,
Phurailatpam said, adding that many drug users are hunted
by the police and targeted by vigilante mobs.
called for countries with HIV epidemics to invite drug users
to help them mold their national AIDS policies.
conference Tuesday, Adeeba Kamarulzaman, president of the
Malaysian AIDS Council, said global drug policy, which
focuses on arresting and prosecuting drug users, is
damaging efforts to fight the epidemic.
She proposed that
responsibility for dealing with drug users be
transferred from the police to the health system.
gathered about 2,500 government officials, AIDS activists
and health professionals from around the region in Colombo
for a five-day gathering aimed at tackling the spread
of the disease. (AP)