Briefing paper: UNAIDS & The Prevention of HIV Infection Through Injecting Drug Use

Since the world community first became aware of the widespread transmission of HIV, the risk of infection through the sharing of syringes by people who inject drugs has been a key concern for policy makers. While the injection of illegal drugs (primarily heroin but also, in many parts of the world, amphetamine and cocaine) is strongly discouraged by drug enforcement and health agencies, it remains a widespread practice – the United Nations estimates that there are currently 13 million regular injectors worldwide (Aceijas et al, 2004). While all continents have recorded populations of injecting drug users, there are concentrations in certain countries and regions – initially in the 1980s in Europe, Australasia and North America, and more recently across Asia, in the former Soviet Union, and Latin America. Nearly 80% of injectors are now to be found in developing and transitional countries. The majority of these individuals will be poor and socially marginalized, with limited access to family support and mainstream health services.