Canadian Aboriginal Injection Drug Users Twice as Likely as Non-Aboriginal Counterparts To Contract HIV
Aboriginal injection drug users in Vancouver, Canada, are twice as likely as non-aboriginal drug users to contract HIV, according to a study published in the Jan. 7 issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal, the Toronto Globe and Mail reports (Picard, Globe and Mail, 1/7). Researchers from the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS at St. Paul's Hospital analyzed data gathered between May 1996 and December 2000 on 941 HIV-negative participants of the Vancouver Injection Drug User Study -- 230 of the volunteers were aboriginal, and 711 were non-aboriginal. Participants qualified if they had injected drugs at least once in the past month, were at least 14 years old and had completed at least one follow-up visit (Craib et al., Canadian Medical Association Journal, 1/7). The data show that during the study period, 21.1% of the aboriginals and 10.7% of the non-aborginals became infected with HIV. The study also identified several factors that can predict which drug users are most likely to become infected, including homelessness, incarceration in the previous six months, and frequency of injection -- specifically with "speedballs," a mixture of cocaine and heroin, the Globe and Mail reports. Drug users who inject speedballs are more than three times as likely to contract HIV as those who inject only heroin. Dr. Patricia Spittal, a medical anthropologist and co-author of the study, said, "These are truly astonishing and alarming statistics. We have developing world statistics and we have developing world conditions right here in one of the wealthiest countries in the world." Martin Schechter, head of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, said that the study shows that public health programs designed to fight the disease "are woefully short of funds," according to the Globe and Mail. He added that the data "should ring alarm bells in Ottawa" (Globe and Mail, 1/7).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.