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International News
Injection Drug Use Fueling Spread of HIV in Mauritius

February 22, 2007

Injection drug users have become one of the groups most at risk of HIV transmission in Mauritius, prompting the governments to establish a needle-exchange program in an attempt to curb the spread of the virus, Inter Press Service reports. According to Inter Press Service, 92% of new HIV cases in 2005 and 85.2% of new cases in 2006 were caused by injection drug use. The Mauritian parliament at the end of 2006 adopted the HIV and AIDS Act, which established the country's needle-exchange program and methadone treatment program for injection drugs users. According to Inter Press Service, the program within a few weeks exchanged 2,000 used needles with clean ones and provided several hundred IDUs with methadone treatment. Social workers have launched the program in the capital, Port Louis, and surrounding communities, where a large number of IDUs reside or buy drugs. Social worker Cadress Runghen said IDUs are at increased risk of HIV transmission because prevention messages traditionally have focused on sexual behavior rather than drug use. According to Inter Press Service, the needle-exchange program is one of many initiatives implemented under the HIV and AIDS Act. Under the act, a person must voluntarily seek HIV testing, and the results of tests must be made available to the person. The act also allows minors to undergo an HIV test without obtaining the consent of their parents or guardians, and it keeps patient information confidential. The act also requires that treatment referrals be made available to HIV-positive people, and it also makes it a criminal offense for a physician to refuse to give an individual treatment based on perceived HIV status. In addition, penalties have been introduced to protect people's pension rights and employment to help reduce stigma and discrimination associated with HIV/AIDS. Under the act, HIV testing facilities will be established at specific public health institutions in the country, and pre- and post-counseling centers also will be opened (Ackbarally, Inter Press Service, 2/20).

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