When we talk about HIV, we don’t call it a sexually transmitted disease. That’s not an obscure technicality – it’s because HIV is spread through blood as often as it is through sex – specifically via shared needles.
The International Harm Reduction Conference released its global report yesterday. It states that “In Indonesia approximately half of new HIV cases are linked with injecting; this figure is 66 per cent in Russia and Kazakhstan; while in Bangladesh 90 per cent of HIV infections are related to unsafe injecting.” Those are staggering numbers.
These data point to the importance of HIV prevention efforts that go beyond promoting condom use. Safe-sex messages are no use in an epidemic that isn’t driven by sex. The report writers’ recommendations focus mainly on increasing the financial resources for efforts to reduce the negative impact of illegal drug use (ie harm reduction). They have calculated that approximately 3 cents a day is spent on harm reduction.
All HIV epidemics are not the same. We need to recognize that, and target HIV programs in ways that work. Including harm reduction as a tactic in countries like Russia where HIV is mostly transmitted through drug addiction, not sex, would substantially improve HIV prevention efforts.