UNODC Iran addresses HIV prevention among sexual partners of drug users
"I wish I knew about the transmission routes of HIV, so that I would have been protected against it," said Sara, a 38-year-old Iranian woman who had contracted HIV from her HIV-positive husband. "My husband was an injecting drug user, infected with HIV. We found out about this issue too late, when I was also infected with the virus," she added.
Since the last decade, the main route of HIV transmission in Iran has been shared injection among drug users. Most drug users are sexually active and may infect their female sexual partners.
Since 2010, UNODC Iran has initiated a number of activities targeting the sexual partners of injecting drug users (IDUs), including two Bio-Behavioral Surveillance Surveys and one Needs Assessment of the target group. The Needs Assessment indicated that over 600,000 women are suffering from drug-related issues due to their husbands' addiction. The study also identified gaps in physical and mental health services, counseling and social services that are offered to the spouses of injecting drug users. In addition, the assessment identified the key factors hindering access to the target group to be: disclosure of men's behavior, women's lack of knowledge of the potential risks of their spouses' behavior, and the general atmosphere of Drop-in Centers. The first Bio-Behavioral Surveillance showed that 9.4% of IDUs and 3.69% of their female sexual partners were HIV-positive, while the second study showed that only 4.2 % of IDUs and 1% of their female partners were HIV-positive.
The Islamic Republic of Iran has many HIV prevention, treatment, and care services for drug users. Some examples of these services are: Drop-in Centers, Methadone Maintenance Treatment in the community and in closed settings, and Voluntary Counseling and Testing centers. Since 2008, special centers for vulnerable women have been providing services to female drug users, sex workers, spouses of drug users, and spouses of prisoners.
In the framework of the Country Programme for 2011-2014, UNODC Iran organized a workshop on "HIV prevention among sexual partners of drug users" in December 2012. The participants were psychologists from the Vulnerable Women Centers of the Ministry of Health, Health Clinics of Tehran Municipality, and the Drop-in Centers. They were asked to apply the content of the training package and make necessary changes to their practice. In a booster session held in March 2013, the benefits and obstacles related to the application of the training package were reviewed by the facilitator and the participants of the first workshop, who actively shared their experiences.
UNODC Iran intends to pilot the aforementioned training package in 4 provinces, under the UNAIDS fund of Unified Budget, Results, and Accountability Framework (UBRAF) for High Impact Countries. A facilitator will monitor the work of the focal points of the project and the results will be compiled in a report to be shared with the national counterparts.