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Study points to HIV-drug use link

Study points to HIV-drug use link

LISBON, Portugal -- More than 25 percent of intravenous drug users in some European countries are infected with HIV, according to a new study.

The statistics show that AIDS and HIV among drug users is a growing problem for Europe.

Lucas Wiessing, an epidemiologist with the Lisbon-based European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addictions (EMCDDA), said in some areas more than 25 percent of drug users had the virus.

He said Portugal, Spain, Italy, Scotland and the Netherlands were the worst-hit countries.

"Lisbon, Barcelona, Madrid, Seville, Amsterdam and Dundee in Scotland are among the worst in this respect," he told a news conference on Wednesday.

Wiessing, speaking on the U.N. International Day Against Drugs, said the number of intravenous drug users with AIDS was still high since prevention measures for drug users, such as needle-exchange programmes, were not widely offered in European Union countries.

"Mainly the picture is stable because the epidemic has already affected most of Western Europe," he said.

"The big worry is that new infections are still occurring."

In Portugal, the proportion of drug users diagnosed with AIDS compared to total AIDS cases stood at 57 percent in 2000, slightly down from 60 percent the previous year. The number was 80 percent in 1998.

AIDS -- or acquired immune deficiency syndrome -- is caused by the HIV virus and destroys the body's ability to fight infections.

It is most often passed by sexual contact with an infected person or through contact with infected blood.

According to a United Nations report released on Saturday, some 40 million people in the world either have AIDS or are infected with HIV.

Wiessing released his data as more than 15,000 scientists, physicians, community leaders and people with AIDS gathered in Madrid, Spain, for the 14th International AIDS Conference.

Prominent among the guests was former U.S. President Bill Clinton and South Africa's ex-president Nelson Mandela.

A separate study, for the United Nations, found that many people in developing areas are aware of AIDS but believe the risk of getting it is low.

A study of 24 countries in Africa, seven in Asia and eight in Latin America and the Caribbean found that even in places where there is a high prevalence of HIV most people feel the risk of contraction is low.

"We need to inform people about the risks -- that their risks are not insignificant -- and in addition there have to be clear messages on what can be done and where to go," said Joseph Chamie, director of the U.N. Population Division, which compiled the study.

"Awareness is increasing but behaviour remains risky. We see differences between rural and urban areas, with rural areas doing much worse than urban areas. There is also a gap between men and women."


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