HIV/AIDS treatment and drug substitution therapy for drug users - critical element of a comprehensive response

15 July 2004, Bangkok -- The WHO shared ideas on treatment for intravenous drug users living with HIV/AIDS at a press conference held on Thursday 15 July, at the XV International AIDS conference, Bangkok. The event organized by the Open Society Institute, the European AIDS Treatment Group, the Russian Community of People Living with HIV/AIDS and the Thai Drug Users’ Network highlighted various issues including the effectiveness and availability of drug substitution therapy in countries.

"Many physicians are reluctant to treat drug users because they view them as irresponsible people who will not adhere to treatment regimens," said Dr. Jim Yong Kim, WHO director of HIV/AIDS, who was a panel member of the conference. "Available data shows clearly that drug users, offered the right support from the health sector, receive the same benefits from treatment as other people with HIV".

Dr Andrew Ball, Manager of Regional and Country Support of WHO HIV/AIDS Department said, "the WHO fully recognizes the overwhelming evidence that methadone and buprenorphine are highly effective treatments for drug dependence and prevention of HIV/AIDS. “WHO has undertaken an extensive review of the effectiveness of methadone in HIV/AIDS prevention and care. An independent expert committee is considering including methadone on the WHO Essential Drugs List ,” he added.

Providing both HIV/AIDS and drug dependence treatment for drug users is a critical element of a comprehensive HIV response. Despite the fact that intravenous drug users account for an estimated 10 percent of all HIV cases worldwide, in many countries they are routinely excluded from receiving ART.