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 Sunday 15 July 2007
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SOUTH AFRICA: Drug users neglected in AIDS response

Photo: South African Medical Research Council (MRC)
The crystalline form of methamphetamine - locally known as 'tik'
DURBAN, 6 June 2007 (PlusNews) - Sub-Saharan Africa is experiencing an alarming growth in injecting drugs users, and South Africa is no exception, delegates attending the third South African AIDS conference heard on Wednesday.

A particularly worrying epidemic of metamphetamine (locally known as "tik") use has emerged in recent years with a high concentration in Cape Town's coloured townships.

While South Africa's new National Strategic Plan for HIV and AIDS has been widely praised as thorough and inclusive, Gregg Gonsalves, a researcher with the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa (ARASA), argued on Wednesday that it contains no substantial policy on injecting drug users (IDUs) as a high-risk group.

According to Gonsalves, once HIV enters a population of IDUs, the spread of the virus tends to be "explosive" and can easily move across to the general population.

In South Africa, an estimated 20 percent of IDUs are already infected with HIV, a recent study has found, and this figure could rise rapidly without interventions targeting this group, he warned. Gonsalves described the National Strategic Plan as "vague and non-specific about how we're going to intervene in drug use."

He singled out the rampant use of tik by young people in Cape Town as an area that urgently needs interventions. Apart from the dangers of injecting tik with dirty needles, the drug has the affect of increasing sex drive and impairing short term memory. The result is a much higher likelihood of having unprotected sex and, in turn, contracting HIV.

Gonsalves recommended introducing strategies that have worked in other countries such as needle exchange programmes, the use of methadone to help people recover from drug addiction, as well as HIV prevention and treatment programmes aimed specifically at drug users.

See also: PlusNews Fact file on Injecting Drug Use

Theme(s): (IRIN) HIV/AIDS (PlusNews)


[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
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