24 September 2008 - Findings published today in The Lancet show that nearly 16 million people are estimated to inject drugs worldwide. Almost 40 per cent of people who inject drugs were estimated to be living in China, the USA and Russia. In some low- and middle-income countries, more than 40 per cent of all injecting drug users are HIV positive.
The study, carried out by the Reference Group to the United Nations on HIV and Injecting Drug Use, is based on a review of 11,000 documents from published, government and non-government reports, as well as consultations with world experts in the field. The expert group provides independent technical advice to United Nations' agencies addressing injecting drug use and HIV, including: the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the UNAIDS Secretariat.
The report warns that the true extent of the problem is unknown: "existing data are far from adequate, in both quality and quantity, particularly in view of the increasing importance of injecting drug use as a mode of HIV transmission in many regions." Countries at risk are not reporting on the problem, for example in Africa and the Middle East. In Asia, there has been little assessment of the impact of a growing methamphetamine epidemic on the spread of HIV. The Reference Group therefore called for increased technical capacity to monitor the issue.
The authors also called for increased coverage of injecting drug use populations by HIV prevention activities such as needle and syringe programmes and opioid substitution treatment and to provide treatment and care for those who are living with HIV. "Creating an enabling environment for provision of effective HIV services still remains a serious challenge for stakeholders including governments and civil society organizations in many countries" said Christian Kroll, UNODC's Global Coordinator for HIV/AIDS.
For further information on the Reference Group to the UN on HIV and injecting drug use, see www.idurefgroup.com