Injection Drug Use in India More Widespread Than Previously Thought, Could Fuel Spread of HIV, Survey Says
Injection drug use in India might be more widespread than previously thought, which some health experts and advocates say could fuel the spread of HIV in the country, according to a UNAIDS-supported survey recently released by the Society for Promotion of Youth and Masses, Reuters reports. The survey found that 60% of 3,300 injection drug users in 10 cities and towns in the northern Indian states of Punjab and Haryana shared needles and syringes. Denis Broun, head of UNAIDS in India, said that the survey "shows the problem of IDUs has been underestimated in mainland India, as most of the problem was thought to be in the northeast."
According to official estimates, there are approximately 200,000 IDUs in India, although advocates say the number likely is higher. About 2.2% of all HIV cases in the country are transmitted through injection drug use, according to the National AIDS Control Organization. According to Broun, the figure likely is higher than 2.2%. "The percentage for IDU transmissions may be relatively small, but if there are more IDUs than thought, it could be a major transmission route in the future," Broun said.
Broun added that many IDUs are married or visit commercial sex workers, which increases the risk of HIV transmission for their partners. About 10% of IDUs are HIV-positive, a higher prevalence than among sex workers, according to official estimates. In the Punjab city of Ludhiana, HIV prevalence among IDUs is about 21%, and many IDUs are not aware that they are at risk of contracting HIV. NACO head Sujatha Rao said that the government plans to increase efforts to prevent HIV transmission through injection drug use in Haryana and Punjab by promoting oral drug substitutes and scaling up testing, drug counseling and rehabilitation centers, Reuters reports. "We have to watch this trend very carefully ... as cheap pharmaceuticals are available over the counter," Rao said (Zaheer, Reuters, 6/11).