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Vancouver safe-injection site lauded in international report
Pamela Fayerman
CanWest News Service; Vancouver Sun

VANCOUVER - Countries facing escalating growth in HIV/AIDS due to injection drugs should consider implementing programs like those in Vancouver offering methadone replacement, needle exchange and safer injections, an advanced copy of a United Nations/Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation-commissioned report states.

The report was done by the Institute of Medicine which bills itself as an agency that provides independent, objective, evidence-based advice to public and private policymakers and health professionals. It was commissioned last year by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS and the Gates Foundation because injection-drug use is on the verge of becoming the main driver of the HIV epidemic in high-risk countries throughout Asia and Africa and Eastern Europe.

While calling on those jurisdictions to start offering clean needle- and drug-treatment programs, which are proven to reduce HIV/AIDS risks, the authors concede research is still in its infancy when it comes to whether HIV/AIDS is reduced by centres like that in Vancouver where supervising nurses daily observe 700 addicts shooting up their own heroin or cocaine in safe and sterile surroundings.

The Vancouver clinic was recently given a 16-month extension of its operating licence by the federal government to allow for more time to prove whether it is an effective way to fight drug addiction.

Health Minister Tony Clement said the only thing research to date has proven is that ''drug addicts need more help to get off drugs'' but he said there is a paucity of published data to show whether safe-injection sites fight addiction and reduce HIV/AIDS.

The report echoes that sentiment.

''It is logical that reducing exposure to contaminated injection equipment and getting users to decrease or discontinue injection-drug use would lead to lower incidence of HIV infection but we simply lack sufficient studies that have gathered data on this,'' said Dr. Hugh Tilson, chair of the committee that wrote the report and a professor at the University of North Carolina.

In nations where injection drugs account for a growing proportion of new HIV injections, efforts must address both drug use and HIV transmission, Tilson said.

Besides Tilson, the committee was made up of experts from across the U.S., Thailand, India and Russia.

They assessed 100 published studies in peer-reviewed journals, including a handful done in Vancouver. They were all rolled into a 150-page ''pre-publication'' report released to the media Tuesday.

Vancouver Sun

© CanWest News Service 2006


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