Preventing HIV is largely a case of persuading people to follow very simple instructions. The best-known instruction is ‘always use a condom’, but anyone who injects drugs should also be able to recognise that not sharing needles is the best way to avoid infection.
If you share a needle with anyone then you are usually injecting their blood into your own bloodstream. You may think that your friend does not have HIV, you may ‘need’ to do it ‘just this once’ and you may not be able to see the tiny flecks of blood left in the syringe or on the needle. But if HIV is present in that blood then you can be pretty sure that your friend is sharing their HIV with you as well as their drugs. It doesn’t matter whether you are a lover sharing a hit of illegal drugs, a gym buddy sharing bodybuilding steroids or a sibling sharing an insulin needle. You put yourself at risk every time you share.
There were 120 new HIV infections in UK in 2012 as a result of people sharing needles. That is 120 more than there needs to be. Not using intravenous drugs at all will mean that you don’t put yourself at risk of sharing a needle and then contracting HIV, but we don’t live in a perfect world. People will always use drugs, what we need to do is to stop people from sharing both needles and syringes.
The raTrust regularly offers advice and help to those who inject drugs, offering access to needle exchange programmes. We hope to be able to start our own secure needle exchange scheme in the future, as we recognise how important access to clean syringes and needles is in the fight against HIV infection.
Until then we will offer intravenous drug users advice about getting clean and information about where to access medical help, as well as where to access clean works, HIV testing and free condoms. We believe that we must work amongst those who are the most at risk of contracting HIV if we are ever to have a chance of wiping it out once and for all. Persuading one person to dispose of a syringe rather than share it is simply a first step.
Dominika Rejmer – Director and founder, The raTrust.