HIV epidemic sweeps along the heroin highways news service

Anna Gosline

An epidemic of HIV infections is sweeping along the infamous heroin-trafficking highways from Afghanistan to Eastern Europe, says a US researcher. The surge in cases among intravenous drug users is fuelled by inadequate access to drug-addiction treatment, needle-sharing and users’ proximity to the routes. “This HIV/AIDS epidemic is just beginning and the virus is, again, ahead of our responses,” says Chris Beyrer at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “Drug treatment and HIV prevention must be implemented now, everywhere the heroin is flowing.” Eastern Europe and Central Asia are home to 1.4 million HIV-positive people, Beyrer reported at the International Aids Society Conference in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Most acquired the virus from sharing intravenous drug injection equipment. Though adult prevalence is still low in Eastern Europe – in most countries under 2% of the adult population – the stage is set for an “explosive” boom, Beyrer warns. In Estonia, for example, the number of cases went from 0 to 450 in under a year between 1999 and 2000. Most of the drug users are young, male and sexually active, making the possibility of wider spread more likely.