HIV epidemics emerge among people who inject drugs in the Middle East and North Africa

June 23, 2014

The number of HIV cases is rising among people who inject drugs (PWID) in several countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Substantial levels of HIV transmission and emerging HIV epidemics have been documented among this group in at least one-third of the countries of this region, according to findings published recently in PLOS Medicine.

In countries such as Afghanistan, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Morocco, Oman, and Pakistan, on average between 10% and 15% of PWID are HIV-positive. The HIV epidemics in these countries appear to be growing; in Pakistan, for example, the fraction of PWID who are HIV-infected increased from 11% in 2005 to 25% in 2011. In Iran, the HIV epidemic among PWID has stabilized at about 15%. In some other countries, such as in Jordan, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria, limited HIV transmission was found among PWID.

“Not only have we found a pattern of new HIV epidemics among PWID in the region, but we found also indications that there could be hidden HIV epidemics among marginalized populations in several countries with still-limited data,” says Ghina Mumtaz, PhD candidate, lead author of the study. Mumtaz points to Libya as one country with this profile.

The sharing of needles or syringes is not the only problem.”We also see high levels of risky practices that will likely expose this population to further HIV transmission in the coming years,” says Laith Abu-Raddad, PhD, principal investigator of the study. “It is of priority that countries in the region expand HIV surveillance systems among PWID to detect and monitor these budding and growing HIV epidemics.” Read the study.

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