Education and prevention key to halting HIV among high risk populations

Researchers say that while HIV prevalence is low among those who are currently using injection drugs, their risky behaviours were “alarmingly high”. With a high incidence of Hepatitis C, it is possible this could be followed soon by an increase in HIV rates.

In coordination with the Ministry of Public Health, World Vision Afghanistan is already working in education and prevention among high-risk populations. Through a combination of outreach, awareness, testing and counseling, World Vision’s efforts can help prevent such fears from becoming reality.

According to Dr. Faraidoon Qaumy, coordinator for World Vision’s STI, HIV and AIDS Prevention and Education (SHAPE) Programme, (funded by World Vision Australia), WV outreach counselors are providing assistance to three high-risk populations – at the women’s shelter, in prisons (men’s and women’s), and at the Herat detoxification centre for injection drug users.

He agrees that injection drug use and other high-risk behaviors must be curbed. “In the last year, there have been ten HIV cases identified at the Herat Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) centre – all were injection drug users.” This is a large number of cases in a city and country where VCT is a relatively new approach to STIs (sexually transmitted infection) and HIV.

Dr. Qaumy is hopeful and believes in the potential impact of education and prevention programming. He cites the prison as one example of behavioral change. “There are many high-risk persons there and six months ago a high rate of STIs.” He says that through education the number of infections has dropped drastically. “We are working in areas of high-risk, sharing information about the different ways of transmission and prevention. It’s the most important thing we can teach.”

Last year there were only 61 confirmed cases of HIV in Afghanistan. This year, there are 254, but officials believe the number of infected persons is much higher, largely due to intravenous drug use. A recent report from UNODC cites an estimated 50,000 heroin users in Afghanistan.