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UNICEF survey among injecting drug users: First drug use between 15-17 years of age

Sarajevo, 10 April 2008. – The  UNICEF-commissioned study: „Biological and Behavioural Survey among Injecting Drug Users (IDU), Bosnia and Herzegovina, 2007”, has been officially presented today.  In addition to the evidence of a high level of risk behaviour among injecting drug users, the study found that the median age of first drug use was between 15-17 years of age, and that many people moved to injecting drug use within only three years after that. Another worrying fact is that the first experience of sexual intercourse occurred before 15 years of age, and that there was exposure to multiple risks – a frequent change of sexual partners and a low rate of condom use, which could enable the infection to spread among the injecting drug community and then follow into the general population. Approximately one third of the IDU population in Sarajevo, Banja Luka and Zenica had been sharing needles and syringes in the month preceding the survey.

“The fact that HIV isn’t present on a larger scale is just a lucky coincidence. This survey reveals the fact that, when the HIV virus appears, it has all conditions for a rapid spread among the IDU and, then, the general population.”  - said Mr. Senad Sepic, Assistant Minister of Civil Affairs.

„It is our hope that these study results will provide current and relevant information about the prevalence of HIV and associated risk behaviours among drug-injecting communities in the three largest cities in BiH and will support the efforts of policy-makers to deliver sustainable, targeted interventions for those individuals most at risk of contracting HIV, including adolescents. “ – said June Kunugi, UNICEF Representative in BiH.

Around one half of the IDUs aged 18 - 24 in Sarajevo and slightly more than a quarter of the same age in Zenica experienced their first sexual intercourse before the age of 15. Having more than one sexual partner in the previous year was reported by a total of 60% of respondents. The average number of partners in the previous year ranged from 3-5, which suggests a substantial partner change rate.  The high prevalence of Hepatitis C virus among surveyed IDUs indicates risk behaviour, such as sharing needle and syringes, unprotected sex, changing partners, etc.

The study concludes that greater efforts are needed to promote increased awareness of HIV infection and safer behavior, as well as intensified prevention or harm reduction programmes, HIV counseling and testing services. The majority of respondents did not know of any NGO support services in their cities and many did not know where they could get an HIV test.  Whereas the current prevalence of HIV and syphillis is likely to be low in these three cities, the results should be seen as a window of opportunity to prevent the spread of HIV and sexually-transmitted infections through a rapid scale-up of activities, including increased visibility and reach of harm reduction services - particularly those provided through community outreach. It is critical that HIV infection be prevented from spreading through the IDU community or entering the general population, as has happened in other countries in the region. 



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