Friday, January 29, 2016

HIV Prevalence and Risk among People Who Inject Drugs in Five South African Cities

  • We conducted the largest cross-sectional HIV prevalence and risk survey among people who inject drugs in South Africa to date.
  • We provide a description of participant demographics, drug using and sexual history and findings from bi-variate and multi-variate analysis for HIV infection.
  • The study identified high-risk injecting and sexual practices among PWID in South Africa.
  • We provide recommendations to inform future HIV prevention and treatment interventions for PWID in South Africa.
Policy and programming for people who inject drugs (PWID) in South Africa is limited by the scarcity of epidemiological data. We conducted a cross-sectional survey among 450 PWID (362 males and 88 females) from five South African cities in 2013, using outreach and peer referral to recruit participants. We carried out rapid HIV tests on participants’ saliva and assessed drug-using and sexual practices by means of a questionnaire. 

We found that 26% of females and 13% of males reported to always share injecting equipment, while 49% of all participants had used contaminated injecting equipment the last time they injected. Only 6% of participants usually used bleach to clean their injecting equipment. We found that half of participants reported using a condom the last time they had sex. A quarter of participants reported symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection (STI) in the previous 12 months and 22% had ever worked as a sex worker (51% of females).

HIV prevalence among participants was 14% (18% among females and 13% among males). In multivariate analysis HIV was significantly associated with being 25 years and older , belonging to a racial group other than white, coming from Gauteng province, having ever worked as a sex worker and the presence of STI symptoms in the last 12 months. 

This study highlights the need for increased access to sterile injecting equipment, education around safer injecting practices and access to sexual and reproductive health services for PWID in South Africa. Programmes for PWID should also address the specific needs of female PWID, PWID who sell sex and PWID from previously disadvantaged communities.

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By:  Andrew Scheibe, David Makapela, Ben Brown, Monika dos Santos, Fabienne Hariga, Harsheth Virk, Linda-Gail Bekker, Olga Lyan, Nancy Fee, Margarete Molnar, Alina Bocai, Jason Eligh, Riku Lehtovuori
Desmond Tutu HIV Centre, Institute of Infectious Diseases and Molecular Medicine and Department of Medicine, University of Cape Town, Cape Town, South Africa
Corresponding author. 10 Upper Towers Road, Muizenberg, 7945, South Africa. +27 (0) 79 882 7726 (tel.).

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