Australia clean-needle program keeping HIV at bay

Sun Jan 23, 2011 9:25pm EST
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NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Australia's early and widespread use of clean-needle programs seems to have kept HIV rates among injection-drug users in check over the long term, according to a study.

In 1986, several years after HIV and AIDS came to widespread attention, Australia set up publicly funded programs to provide injection-drug users with clean needles and syringes, an attempt to prevent needle sharing and head off an epidemic of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, among drug users.

In many countries, needle exchange programs allow drug users to trade in used needles for new ones, but in Australia users are simply given new ones.

Libby Topp, at the National Center in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research in Darlinghurst, Australia, and other researchers found that between 1995 and 2009, the rate of HIV among participants in Australia's needle programs held steady at around 1 percent.

According to the study, reported in the journal AIDS, the pattern of infections also mirrored what is seen in the general Australian population -- that is, the majority were among gay and bisexual men.

"There has never been a significant, generalized outbreak of HIV among people who inject drugs in this country," Topp said.

"What our results show is that in a country where needle and syringe programs were introduced early and on a widespread basis, HIV transmission never became a problem among injectors."

Topp told Reuters Health in an email that, based on other research, the 1 percent HIV rate is true of all injection-drug users in Australia, and not only those who use the needle and syringe programs.

By contrast, an estimated 16 percent of injection-drug users in the United States are living with HIV, while in Russia that figure is 37 percent.   Continued...