Buprenorphine, an opiate medicine used to treat severe pain, is the newest weapon in South Asia’s fight against HIV/AIDS.
Injecting drug users (IDUs) can now walk into one of Delhi’s five centres and ask for buprenorphine, an opiate that reduces drug cravings and helps users give up or reduce injecting use, which raises the risk of HIV because of shared needles and syringes. Injecting drug use accounts for just 2 per cent of HIV infection.
“Oral substitution treatment is an effective, safe and cost-effective method for the management of opioid dependence and must be integrated with other HIV prevention and treatment We plan to scale up and introduce it in 15 centres,” says Gary Lewis, Representative, UNODC Regional Office for South Asia, at the launch of a joint UNAIDS, UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) initiative to expand HIV prevention services to injecting drug users in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Nepal.
Following a successful multi-centric pilot study in 225 drug users in Delhi by the All India Institute of Medical Sciences, the initiative will scale up operations to reduce the spread of HIV among drug users and their partners by use of drug substitution treatment, encouraging safer practices such as using clean needles and syringes, condom use and voluntary HIV counselling and testing.
“Injecting drug has fuelled the spread of HIV in several South Asian countries such as Vietnam and Thailand. Injecting drug use, is not only rising steadily in the north east states of India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nepal because of the porous borders with heroin-producing Afghanistan and Myanmar, but also in cities such as Mumbai, Chennai and Delhi," says JVR Prasada Rao, director, Asia Pacific regional support team, UNAIDS.