Taiwanese Health Dept. Considers Needle-Exchange Program To Reduce Spread of HIV Among Injection Drug Users
Taiwan's Department of Health is considering implementing a needle-exchange program to help reduce the number of new HIV cases among injection drug users in the country, the Taipei Times reports. According to Taiwan's Center for Disease Control, 446 injection drug users were infected with HIV in 2004, a sixfold increase over 2003 figures, and 80% of HIV-positive people in the country were infected with the virus through injection drug use, the Times reports. "The chances of drug users contracting HIV here is very high," DOH Director-General Hou Sheng-mou said, adding, "We are brainstorming ideas and will put forth a practical solution soon." Taiwanese health officials are considering a "harm-reduction" model used in Australia that includes a needle-exchange program, according to the Times. "The needle-exchange program has been effective in containing the disease in Australia," Ling Ting, deputy director of the Taiwan's CDC, said, adding, "We are willing to experiment with the radical pilot project after reaching a consensus." Implementing a needle-exchange program in Taiwan would require the support of police and the courts, according to the Times. "If we are to offer clean needles, we first need to revise a host of statutes that outlaw drug use," Ling said, adding, "We have to persuade (drug users) that we are here to help them, not to bust them."
However, some health officials are unconvinced that efforts employed in other countries would help to reduce the spread of HIV in Taiwan, according to the Times. "The situation in Taiwan is quite different from those in other countries," Li Jih-heng, director general of the National Bureau of Controlled Drugs, said, adding, "Unlike Australia, Canada or the U.S., needles in Taiwan are not a strictly regulated medical device. ... The availability of clean needles is not the issue." Li said the government should focus more on removing the "guilt" associated with needle possession, according to the Times. "Because the police often go to drug stores to seek clues, fewer and fewer drug users dare to go buy needles," Li said, adding, "It is predictable that drug users resort to needle sharing" (Wang, Taipei Times, 3/8).