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Millions of HIV infections could be avoided

1 December 2006

Millions of HIV infections could be avoided

Simple and cost-effective policy change could stop spread of HIV

“Many Governments are acting irresponsibly,” says think tank Director
LONDON – Millions of HIV infections could be avoided each year if simple and cost-effective policies were in place which stop the unnecessary spread of the virus by intravenous drug use, said ICOS, an international security and development think tank, on World AIDS Day. Despite the knowledge of how to prevent the spread of HIV through injecting drug use existing for over 20 years, many governments are still refusing to change their approach to the global drug policy.

“Governments around the world are being completely irresponsible by failing to stop the spread of this deadly virus when they have known for over twenty years how to prevent it,” said Emmanuel Reinert, Executive Director of ICOS. “It is incomprehensible that many countries are allowing millions of their citizens to be infected with HIV when extremely simple measures can be implemented to protect them.”

Since the mid-eighties, strategies such as Methadone maintenance therapy and needle exchange programmes have significantly reduced the risk of HIV transmission by offering alternatives to injecting, or providing sterile injecting equipment. “Injecting drug use represents the second largest means of transmission of HIV/AIDS through the sharing of contaminated needles,” said Reinert.

Injecting drugs is one of the biggest causes of infection

According to UNAIDS and World Health Organisation estimates, there are 1.7 million HIV sufferers in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 90% of whom live in Russia and the Ukraine. Almost two-thirds of new HIV infections in this region in the last year were due to non-sterile injection drug use. Intravenous drug use has also been the biggest source of infection in China this year, where cases of HIV have risen by 30%. HIV is then transmitted into the community at large through sexual relations. “These infections could have been prevented if clean needle exchange programmes had been in place,” said Reinert.

Cost-effective measures are easy to implement

In addition to the unnecessary suffering and tragic deaths caused by HIV, the spread of the deadly virus amongst injecting drug users is also costing millions in taxpayers’ money – research shows that the failure to implement widespread health-based programmes costs governments huge sums in medical care for HIV cases that could have been prevented.

“Paying for clean needles costs societies substantially less than the healthcare costs of HIV/AIDS, said Reinert. “It is extremely bad management of health care resources for governments to be further delaying the supply of clean needles to injecting drug users.”

Furthermore, the cost of law-enforcement and criminalization far exceeds that needed for basic health care, which gives superior results.

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