Governments That Bar Injection Drug Users From Treatment Fuel Spread of HIV, WHO Official Says
July 19, 2004
The World Health Organization on Thursday at the XV International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, warned that countries preventing injection drug users from receiving treatment are fueling the spread of HIV, Agence France-Presse reports (Agence France-Presse, 7/15). There are about 13 million injection drug users worldwide -- including 10 million in developing countries -- and up to 90% of them could be HIV-positive, Andrew Ball, manager of HIV/AIDS support at WHO, said. Although HIV-positive injection drug users in developed countries have relatively good access to antiretroviral drugs, those in other regions such as Eastern Europe "are excluded from any form of treatment," Ball said. Many drug users avoid seeking medical care because they fear police action or forced drug rehabilitation. In addition, many health workers have "very negative attitudes" toward injection drug users -- attitudes fueled by "myths ... that drug users aren't adherent to treatment, that there is very little value in investing in drug users by providing them with expensive treatment ... that they're not really contributing to society," Ball said (Lovering, Associated Press, 7/15). "[D]rug users are routinely written off as unreachable and non-compliant," Jim Yong Kim, director of WHO's Department of HIV/AIDS, said. However, "[a]vailable data show clearly that drug users, offered the right support from the health sector, receive the same benefits from treatment as other people with HIV," Kim said, Reuters reports (Cropley, Reuters, 6/15). Ball said that WHO strongly supports "street drug" substitution programs. Although WHO cannot make methadone and other substitutions for street drugs widely available, the organization supports adding such drugs to its "Essential Drugs List" (Bangkok Post, 7/16). Ball called on countries to create HIV prevention programs for injection drug users that promote abstinence and help treat addiction. In addition, WHO called on countries to provide counseling, outreach, needle exchange and condom distribution programs (Lovering, Associated Press, 7/15). Drug programs should ensure greater access to antiretroviral drugs for injection drug users by providing easier doses, such as once-a-day medication and by offering both HIV and drug treatment services in the same clinic (Reuters, 7/15).
This article was provided by Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. It is a part of the publication Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report. Visit the Kaiser Family Foundation's website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.