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India’s young drug users at risk of catching HIV/AIDS

Figures newly released by UNAIDS show that more than 34 million people worldwide were living with HIV/AIDS by the end of 2010.

Though many are still not receiving antiretroviral drugs (mostly in developing countries), better education and awareness about the disease and widely available treatment in some countries have ensured that annual rates of new HIV infections are in decline globally. New research data also suggests that early treatment for people infected with HIV cuts transmission rates of the disease to others. Some medical experts therefore believe that treatment programmes are another key prevention tool.

However, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases division of the National Institute of Health told Reuters that policies for reducing new HIV/AIDS infections need to vary country by country. And even within countries, varying approaches have to be adopted with different sections of the population. In India, for example, where over 2 million people are living with HIV/AIDS, new infection rates have fallen by more than 50 per cent between 2001 -2009. However, certain groups in society are particularly vulnerable to the disease. Over 15 per cent of India’s estimated 200,000 drug users are HIV positive and in some areas this rises to 50 per cent. Within the drug-taking population, young people are especially at risk, since many are unaware of the dangers posed by HIV/AIDS. Many have been given only basic sex education and with little money, young drugs users regularly share each other’s needles.

Health experts in India are warning that substance-addicted children and adolescents are being overlooked in the battle to fight HIV/AIDS. The UNAIDS co-ordinator for India adds that these young people are often living on the streets “with no means of support”. Some resort to prostitution to fund their habit, increasing their risk of catching HIV/AIDS.

In India, more than 420,000 children were receiving anti-retroviral therapy at the end of 2010, a rise of more than 50 per cent since 2008. However, this represents only around a third of eligible children. With treatment by no means assured for young people, youth workers in India are calling for better education and more counselling and treatment programmes to help those with drug addictions. With the right support, youngsters can be helped off the drugs, drastically reducing their risk of catching HIV/AIDS and increasing their chances of being re-integrated back into society. Because as one young heroin user told Reuters, “I lost jobs, I lost work – I lost everything because of drugs.”

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