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International News

Prime Minister Rudd's Afghanistan Opium Campaign "Risks HIV Plague"

April 14, 2008

Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and allies who want to destroy opium poppies in Afghanistan and offer cash incentives for farmers to grow other crops could inadvertently fuel HIV transmission, say some HIV experts. Before this month's NATO summit, Rudd said he supported the "carrot-stick" approach as a way to undercut the financing of terrorists through the opium trade.

But the strategy would push up the price of opium and lead many drug users to switch from eating or smoking opium to injecting heroin, said Dr. Alex Wodak, a World Bank HIV consultant and director of drug and alcohol services at Sydney's St. Vincent Hospital.

"The 200,000 Afghans who smoke and eat opium would shift to inject heroin and then we would inevitably have an HIV epidemic among drug users [and beyond]," Wodak said. While the number of injecting drug users (IDUs) in Afghanistan is still low, at about 19,000 people, it has increased rapidly in recent years, he said. There is the risk of HIV transmission among IDUs introduced by expatriates returning from Iran and Pakistan, he added. Wodak said Australia and its allies should promote clean needle use among IDUs.

The number of Afghanistan hectares growing opium increased 59 percent in 2006 and 17 percent in 2007, to 165,000 hectares total, according to the UN International Narcotics Control Board.

In many countries where plans similar to Rudd's have been tried, "there has been a shift to the use of heroin and that is very rapidly followed by a shift from smoking to injecting," said Nick Crofts, a senior research fellow with Melbourne University's Nossal Institute for Global Health. "And everywhere that's happened it's been followed by massive outbreaks of HIV."

Crofts suggested a holistic approach, such as developing access to education, universal health care, and promoting a stable government and economy.

Back to other news for April 2008

Adapted from:
The Age (Melbourne)
4.10.2008; Annabel Stafford

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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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