Wednesday, February 9, 2011

HIV & public health: a strategy to invite addicts

By Laura Huamán

In British Columbia, Insite, the only “safe injection site” in North America, is one reason Vancouver has decreasing new AIDS infection rates, according to an article in the NYTimes.

Insite offers clean needles and HIV tests and treats anyone who is HIV-positive. The center is staffed with nurses who give medical care and provide condoms. They give gynecological exams, STI treatment, drain and bandage abscesses from dirty needles, refer addicts to treatment, and even help find veins for injection. Insite sees about 800 injections daily.

According to Dr. Patricia Daly, the chief public health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health, there are fewer overdose deaths, less open drug use on the street, and an increase in people brought into detox.

Insite opened in 2003 after a Vancouver study found similar results to those published in the Lancet showing that HIV infection dropped by six percent a year among drug injectors in 29 cities that had needle exchange programs. Also, the current findings that ARVs lower the amount of virus in the blood and thus reduce the risk of HIV transmission, have led public health officials to start intensive treatment campaigns, including at Insite.

Still, there are cases of addicts who, in their desperate search for drugs, may bypass going to Insite or may even sell their ARVs to purchase drugs. Nevertheless, since the program seems to be working, local courts have refused to close it. Judges believe that an addict’s need for drugs is like a diabetic’s need for insulin, and thus accessing such drugs, safely, is a citizen’s right to health.


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