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International News

HIV Risk High in Afghani, Pakistani Drug Users

March 31, 2003

New research suggests that IV-drug users along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border could be on the verge of an HIV/AIDS epidemic due to risky behavior and lack of awareness of the disease.

Of 956 drug users referred to a drop-in center in Quetta, a city along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border, only 16 percent had heard of HIV/AIDS. The study participants, 143 Afghanis and 813 Pakistanis, were mainly male and more than half had no formal education. Researchers found that 55 percent of those who injected drugs admitted to sharing needles. Only 4 percent of participants overall had ever used a condom, despite the fact that more than half of those who were sexually active reported having sex with a prostitute.

"Injection drug use in particular is associated with very fast, explosive HIV epidemics. The rise in injection drug use we've seen in Pakistan over the last several years is cause for concern," said Dr. Steffanie A. Strathdee, lead author of the study and an associate professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University.

Only about 13 percent of participants in the study said they inject heroin or other drugs. And research shows that the majority of the 3 million heroin addicts in Pakistan use the drug by "chasing the dragon," burning it in foil to inhale the fumes.

According to Strathdee, there is a small "window of opportunity" now to implement effective HIV/AIDS-prevention programs in this region of the world while the overall incidence of injection drug use remains low. A mass HIV/AIDS and condoms education campaign, along with needle exchange programs, addiction treatment and efforts to discourage the transition to injection drugs, should be started immediately, Strathdee said.

The study, "HIV Knowledge and Risk Behaviors Among Pakistani and Afghani Drug Users in Quetta, Pakistan," is published in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes (2003;32:394-398).

Back to other CDC news for March 31, 2003

Previous Updates

Adapted from:
Reuters Health
03.28.03; Dana Frisch

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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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