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More than half of the people who inject illicit drugs in Maputo city are infected with the HIV virus which causes AIDS, according to an integrated biological and behavioural study released in the Mozambican capital on Thursday.
The study was undertaken by specialist departments in the Mozambican Ministry of Health, with the support of bodies such as the United States Centre for Disease Control (CDC), and the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC).
The lead researcher, Cyntia Baltazar, told reporters that the study was undertaken in Maputo and the northern province of Nampula.
In Maputo the researchers interviewed 353 people out of an estimated total of 1,684 who inject drugs. Among the sample, 50.1 per cent tested positively for HIV.
In Nampula, the researchers went to the port city of Nacala where an estimated 520 people inject drugs. They interviewed 159 of the drug abusers, and 19.9 per cent were HIV-positive.
The prevalence of hepatitis was also alarming. Of the Maputo sample, 32.1 per cent had hepatitis B and 44.6 per cent were suffering from hepatitis C. For Nacala, the figures were 36.4 per cent and seven per cent.
Many of the drug abusers were co-infected with hepatitis and HIV. In Maputo, 14.9 per cent of the sample had both HIV and hepatitis B, and 36.1 per cent had HIV and hepatitis C. The corresponding figures for Nacala were 8.3 and 4.1 per cent.
The infections are clearly related with the sharing of needles. In Maputo 50.3 per cent admitted to sharing needles, and in Nacala 42.4 per cent.
Many of the drug abusers were not taking measures to protect themselves and others from protection. In Nacala the great majority of the sample admitting to have two or more sexual partners in the previous 12 months, and 70.9 per cent did not use a condom in their most recent sexual encounter.
In Maputo, these figures were somewhat better, in that 52 per cent claimed they had just one sexual partner or none at all in the previous year, and 52.4 per cent said they had used a condom the last time they had sex.
The main drug injected was heroin (82.2 per cent of the sample in Maputo, and 73.3 per cent in Nacala).
Baltazar said these results “shows us that we have to strengthen measures among this group”. People who inject drugs are stigmatised, she said, and are often inaccessible “because they are always hiding. Yet they have a major weight in the HIV epidemic”.
She noted the poor level of condom use among drug abusers, as another indication that “we must make very focused and specialised interventions in this group”.
This was the first scientific evidence about HIV infection among drug abusers, she said, and “our hope now is that the Health Ministry and the National Aids Council, and the various institutions that work with people who inject drugs, will strengthen their prevention strategies, and guarantee other special activities for this group”.
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