HIV is a risk for people who inject drugs
Since its emergence as an epidemic, HIV has affected much more groups of the population that were already stigmatized before, and one of them is that of people who use injection drugs.
But something that these forty years of the pandemic have taught us is that all people, regardless of their practices, deserve to have options to protect themselves from the virus.
Harm Reduction Policies
It is true that injection drugs cannot be said to be harmless, nor can their use be recommended in any context, however, there is a prevention perspective known as “harm reduction”.
This model is applied to the consumption of all drugs in general, and consists in the fact that, rather than prohibiting consumption, it is possible to reduce the negative impact that drug use has on the health of those who already consume them.
In the case of HIV, they looked for ways to avoid the most effective route of transmission for HIV: the blood route. When someone has the virus (and is not under treatment), blood is the body fluid where the largest amount of it is found, so it is very likely that transmission occurs through this means.
That’s why, although people who inject drugs may seem like a small part of the population, the rate of HIV infection in that group is very high considering that there is blood and injection equipment involved in their use.
Avoid major risks
Yes, it would be better to seek professional help to stop injecting drug use, but the truth is that not many people who use injection drugs have the opportunity to do so. In addition, those who try it may suffer discrimination if they go to a first contact health center, since addiction and its complications can be judged and provoke rejection by some members of the health personnel.
For this reason, civil organizations and institutions that seek to prevent HIV have focused on harm reduction strategies that have been shown to work.
The first of these is the free delivery of new and disposable injection material, such as syringes and needles, and special containers for this type of object. This is because it is very common for people to consume the drug in groups and for these groups to share the injection material, which retains traces of blood when someone injects.
The fundamental step to cut the transmission of HIV is that each person has individual material to inject, and that the needles or syringes that have already been used (and that have blood residues) are not scattered around and there is no possibility of someone else you can hurt yourself with them.
Even in some countries, such as Canada, there have been so-called safe injection centers for decades, which are places where drug users can consume and have safe injection equipment, as well as health personnel who are attentive to any concerns related to consumption or any emergency that arises at the moment.
Sex and other drugs
One more tool that cannot be missing in HIV prevention is the condom. Since injection drug users are having sex, just like anyone else, they should take precautions in that regard as well, and in that regard, using a condom is the best way to protect yourself.
However, this recommendation is not only useful for those who use these types of drugs, but for anyone who has sex while using some other substance. Remember that narcotics change the perception of reality, and it is possible that, if you are under their effects, you may engage in sexual activities that you would not otherwise do. In these conditions, it is better to have a condom on hand and use it, thus reducing the possibility of contracting not only HIV, but other sexually transmitted infections.
And do you know how to protect yourself from HIV? If you want to know more about it, come to one of the AHF Latin America and the Caribbean offices and learn about all our free services. We are in 11 countries in the region.