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Vulnerability to HIV infection among female drug users in Kathmandu Valley, Nepal: a cross-sectional study

Women who use drugs are extremely vulnerable to HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), but studies on risk behaviours and HIV infection among female drug users are limited in Nepal.

Methods

In this cross-sectional study conducted between September 2010 and May 2011, HIV prevalence and risk factors for HIV infection were investigated among female drug users recruited in drop-in centres, parks and streets in the Kathmandu Valley. The participants completed face-to-face interviews for a structured questionnaire, HIV pre-test counselling, specimen collection for HIV test and they were provided with their results at post-test counselling.

Results

A total of 269 female drug users were recruited, of whom 28%   were found HIV positive; the majority (78% ) being injecting drug users and aged below 25?years (57%,  155). Nearly half (137) of the total participants had shared needles or syringes in the past month, and 131 and 102 participants were involved in commercial or casual sex respectively with only half or less of them having had used condoms in the last 12?months. In multivariate analysis the variables associated with HIV infection included: (a) older age; (b) history of school attendance; (c) frequency of sharing of injection instruments; and (d) unsafe sex with commercial or casual partners.

Conclusions

HIV was highly prevalent among female drug users in the Kathmandu Valley, with its risk being strongly associated not only with unsafe injection practice but also with unsafe sexual behaviours. Awareness raising programmes and preventive measures such as condom distribution, needle or syringe exchange or methadone maintenance therapy should be urgently introduced in this neglected subpopulation.

Author: 

Bhagabati Ghimire

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