Chemsex and needle sharing among elements of HIV risk

Injecting drug users who share needles is the most common mode of HIV transmission. Picture: REUTERS

Chemsex has been referred to as “another element” of HIV risk among intravenous drug users.

UNAIDS Pacific Office country director Renata Ram said in recent years, the use of synthetic drugs had increased and the two elements of HIV risk included the sharing of needles when consuming these drugs.

“Another element is through chemsex. This is sexual activity engaged in while under the influence of stimulant drugs such as methamphetamine, typically involving several participants, without the use of condoms,” Ms Ram said.

She said chemsex had been noted to be practised in Fiji.

“In other countries around the world, injecting drug users who share needles is the most common mode of HIV transmission, this in many countries has greatly increased the number of cases.

“Prevention strategies called harm reduction have shown to reduce the number of cases. An example of a harm reduction program is a needle exchange program. This is when a person exchanges a dirty needle for a clean one.

“This is a non-discriminatory approach to reducing one’s risk to HIV as drug addictions require longer rehabilitation times.”

Ms Ram also revealed that talking about sex was a taboo subject in Fiji and the rest of the Pacific.

“Due to this conservatism, our awareness campaigns can be challenging. Unsafe sex practices is the main mode of HIV transmission in Fiji while high STI (sexually transmitted infection) rates and low condom use still remain an issue.”

She said recent years’ data indicated that only 24 per cent of men who had sex with men (MSM) in Fiji used a condom during their last sexual encounter.

“When we have limited opportunities to talk openly about safe sex, the many consequences of this further to HIV are unplanned pregnancies as well as other STIs. Another challenge to note is stigma and discrimination against PLHIV (people living with HIV), sex workers and LGBTI communities is still a pressing issue in Fiji.”

She added stigma and discrimination from healthcare workers in the Pacific was still quite high.

She said HIV testing among these key populations was low with 25 per cent female sex workers and 42 per cent MSM.

More Stories