A US Centers for Disease Control health adviser warned health officials and drug control officers at the National Drug Conference Monday that measures must be taken to survey transmission of HIV among intravenous drug users or risk facing an new epidemic of the disease.
Dr Richard Needle of the Center’s Global AIDS Program will conduct a 10-day review of the relationship between needle users and HIV/AIDS to advise the Ministry of Health how to prevent a potential epidemic.
Needle use in Cambodia remains low, said Jack Spencer, chief of the Center’s Global AIDS Program. But that could change sooner rather than later.
“There is an alarming increase in injecting drugs [in Cambodia]. It is just a matter of time before we have trouble,” he said.
With no national drug survey available to measure the depth of the problem, it is difficult to identify the rate at which HIV/AIDS may be spread among needle users, Needle said.
HIV and AIDS rates among intravenous drug users can be explosive, as was shown in Thailand in 1989 when the prevalence of the disease spread from zero to 40 percent among needle-users over the course of one year, Needle said.
A snapshot survey of 1,857 street children’s drug use behavior conducted by the NGO Friends in October indicated that intravenous drug use is on the rise, and that many needle-users infected with HIV were selling their blood for money.
“Cambodia has a unique opportunity to prevent what appears to be an epidemic of HIV through intravenous drug users,” Needle said.