High prevalence of HIV and hepatitis B and C is found among injecting drug users

BMJ 2011; 342 doi: (Published 28 June 2011) Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d4078
  1. John Zarocostas
  1. 1Geneva

Almost a fifth (18%) of injecting drug users, or 2.8 million people, are estimated to be infected with HIV, says a report by a United Nations agency.

However, in regions with a high population prevalence of HIV, such as Eastern Europe, Latin America, and South East Asia, the infection rate in drug users is much higher, says the World Drug Report 2011 from the Vienna based UN Office on Drugs and Crime. In Estonia and Brazil, for example, the prevalence of HIV among injecting drug users is 72% and 48%, respectively.

Worldwide about 210 million people, or 4.8% of the population aged 15-64 years, took illicit substances (such as opium, heroin, cocaine, and amphetamine type stimulants such as ecstasy) at least once in the previous year, the report says. There are around 16 million injecting drug users.

At the launch of the report at the UN headquarters in New York, the UN’s secretary general Ban Ki-moon, said that illicit drugs cause some 200 000 deaths each year.

“These numbers add up to a global tragedy,” said Mr Ban, also emphasising that people who are dependent on illicit drugs should not be discriminated against in healthcare. “They should be treated by medical experts and counsellors. Drug addiction is a disease, not a crime,” he said.

It is estimated that more than half the deaths are caused by overdoses, says the agency. Other causes of death include suicide, accidents, infectious diseases transmitted through the use of contaminated needles, and medical conditions associated with long term drug use.

The report says that infection with hepatitis B and C also pose “significant public health concerns, giving rise to considerable morbidity and mortality among drug users.”

About half the world’s injecting drug users, about eight million people, are infected with hepatitis C, although 13 countries reported a prevalence in this group higher than 70%, says the report. Countries with a high prevalence included Mauritius (97%), Latvia (74%), Kenya (70%), Indonesia (82%), the Netherlands (76%), Australia (63%), and Italy (59%).

The agency also estimates that about 22% of injecting drug users, or about 3.5 million people, are infected with the hepatitis B virus.

On average three in every 100 drug users underwent treatment for drug use in 2008, says the report. However, among heroin users this was 22 in every 100 users.


Cite this as: BMJ 2011;342:d4078


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