HIV rates 'are rising among drug users'

drug user

HIV can be spread by drug users sharing needles

An estimated three million drug users are infected with the Aids virus and the numbers are rising, a new study suggests.

The report, published in the British Lancet Medical Journal found in nine out of 61 countries studied, more than 40 per cent of drug users were infected with HIV.

In Britain 0.39 per cent of 15 to 64-year-olds injected drugs in Britain, of whom 2.3 per cent were HIV positive.

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is a sexually transmitted virus (STI) but is also spread by the use of shared needles. Over time the virus destroys infection fighting cells and eventually stops the immune system working - the point at which it becomes Aids.

Researchers said the low HIV rates of infected drug users in Britain was due to the introduction of needle exchange programmes in the 1980s.

The researchers said they were particularly concerned by the complete lack of infection records for many countries in Africa.

They added: 'Areas of particular concern are countries in south-east Asia, eastern Europe and Latin America, where the prevalence of HIV infection among some sub-populations of people who inject drugs has been reported to be over 40 per cent.'

The authors, led by  Dr Bradley Mathers, from the University of New South Wales in Sydney concluded: 'There is a clear mandate to invest in HIV prevention activities such as needle and syringe programmes and opioid substitution treatments and to provide treatment and care for those living with HIV/Aids.'

In an accompanying comment, Dr Kamyar Araseh and Dr Don Des Jarlais, from the Beth Israel Medical Centre in New York, said the research exposed 'disturbing trends' in Asia and eastern Europe.

They wrote: 'The one optimistic aspect of this rather gloomy situation is that, if HIV-prevention efforts are implemented on a large scale when prevalence is low in injecting drug users, it is possible to avert HIV epidemics in users.'

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