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Afghanistan Bombing Could Cause AIDS Explosion

October 12, 2001

The US-led attacks on Afghanistan will eventually disrupt the flow of opium from one of the world's top suppliers and could cause heroin-injecting to surge in neighboring Pakistan, leading to a potential AIDS catastrophe, researchers said on Friday.

Intravenous drug use is one of the major causes of the spread of HIV/AIDS. Heroin prices on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border plunged after the Sept. 11 attacks on the United States as Afghanistan's opium stocks were unloaded. But the flood of heroin slowed after the United States and Great Britain began airstrikes on Sunday. Researchers attending an international conference in Melbourne said climbing heroin prices could force Pakistani addicts who sniffed the drug when it was inexpensive and plentiful to turn instead to intravenous drug use. "This could be a public health crisis of unimaginable proportions," said Alex Wodak of Sydney's St. Vincent's Hospital.

According to Wodak, an explosion in AIDS in Pakistan would have implications for the whole of Asia. Nadeem-ur-Rehman, an HIV/AIDS worker and researcher in Pakistan with nongovernmental organization Nai Zindagi (New Life), said there were already signs of a shift to intravenous injecting in the border city of Quetta. According to Rehman, Pakistan was estimated to have 500,000 chronic heroin abusers, about 44,000 of whom inhale the drug in a practice called "chasing the dragon."

Rehman said that although the prevalence of AIDS in Pakistan was less than 1 percent of the population, needle sharing, the sale of blood to health services, prostitution and unprotected sex left the country vulnerable. "Everything is there. You can't say we are immune because we are a Muslim country," Rehman said. Seven million people in the Asia-Pacific region are living with HIV/AIDS, representing about 20 percent of the worldwide totals, according to UN figures.

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Adapted from:
Reuters
10.12.01; Wendy Pugh


  
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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
 
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