Reaching people who inject drugs in MENA
A systematic review and data synthesis of the HIV epidemic among people who inject drugs (PWID) in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has revealed hidden epidemics in many countries in the region. As little is known about the HIV epidemic among this vulnerable group in MENA, researchers set out to synthesise existing data to establish a picture of HIV prevalence and incidence among PWID and to describe the risk behaviour environment.
Injecting drug use carries a high risk of HIV transmission through the sharing of drug-taking equipment, particularly unsterilised needles. Around 30 percent of global HIV infections outside of sub-Saharan Africa are caused by injecting drug use and it accounts for an ever-growing proportion of those living with HIV. In the MENA region, although HIV prevalence remains low among the total population, increasing numbers of new infections have been documented among vulnerable groups, such as PWID, sex workers and men who have sex with men.
Findings of the systematic review provide strong evidence of growing HIV epidemics among PWID in several MENA countries, the majority of which have emerged in the last decade. There is also a possibility that hidden epidemics among PWID exist in other countries. The researchers highlight the need to act now to take control of emerging and growing HIV epidemics in MENA. They also emphasise the need to improve HIV surveillance in the region to strengthen the evidence-base for policy and programming to support people living with HIV and prevent onward transmission.