Mauritius Starts Needle Exchange Program to Stem AIDS
March 7, 2007
In Mauritius, IV drug use accounted for 92 percent of new HIV infections in 2005 and 85.2 percent last year. These figures are in stark contrast to the rest of southern Africa, where HIV is transmitted primarily through heterosexual sex. In a bid to curb the HIV/AIDS rate among injection drug users (IDUs), the Mauritian government has introduced a syringe- and needle-exchange program and methadone treatment.
Since Parliament adopted the comprehensive HIV and AIDS Act at the end of 2006, around 2,000 syringes have been exchanged. Social workers have established programs in the capital Port Louis and in the city's outlying areas of Baie-du-Tombeau, Roche Bois, and Batterie Cassee. "It is not only a program to exchange syringes," said Cadress Runghen, a social worker. "We are doing it to reach out to drug addicts and convince them to go to one of our rehabilitation centers."
Mauritius has a low HIV rate, just 0.5 percent among its population of 1.2 million. However, the virus has spread unchecked among IDUs. Runghen attributes this to the fact that anti-AIDS messages during the 1990s focused only on sexual behavior. "Nobody kept a check on the drug addict community," said Runghen.
The syringe exchange program is one of several initiatives included in the legislation. Health Minister Satish Faugoo said the act provides a national framework for HIV/AIDS prevention and care programs in Mauritius. It emphasizes confidentiality and human rights, guaranteeing that people with the virus have equal rights to employment and health care. The law makes it illegal to impose HIV testing as a pre-condition for employment or continued employment, and it includes penalties for HIV/AIDS discrimination.
Inter Press Service
02.20.07; Nasseem Ackbarally
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.