One in three intravenous drug users (IDU) in Rawalpindi has HIV, up from just 2.7% in a five-year span, a report revealed on Saturday.
As many as 201 IDUs at 40 different spots in the city were interviewed and tested during an assessment conducted by Nai Zindagi Trust (NZT), a non-governmental organisation working to minimize the threat of HIV spreading among IDUs. The study was sponsored by Mainline Foundation and the Netherlands Foreign Affairs Ministry.
A similar assessment by the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 2007 had put the prevalence of HIV among IDUs in Rawalpindi at 2.7%, while an assessment by NZT in collaboration with the Punjab AIDS Control Programme (PACP) in 2009 found it had risen to 28%.
Another troubling statistic is that around a quarter of the survey participants started injecting drugs before they were even 18. Almost a third (32.8%) started shooting up between the ages of 18 and 24, while another 22.9% started using injectable drugs between 25 and 30.
Most of the survey participants were between 18 and 30 years old, with only 6% aged 44 or above.
Most of the respondents can be considered locals, with 66.8% of the participants having been born in the city, and another 18.6% having migrated to Rawalpindi at least five years ago. The others had moved there more recently.
Although 44.2% of the IDUs had no education at all, 44.6% had between one and eight years of schooling. Some did have greater access to education, with 2.6% of the respondents holding Masters degrees.
Half of the participants had incomes greater than Rs10,000 a month, while 47.3% made between Rs5,000 and 10,000. Most of those surveyed work as labourers (35.5%), while 16.9% are beggars, 4.5% deal drugs, 3.5% are pickpockets, and another 19.4% do odd jobs.
A quarter of the respondents (24.5%) are married, while 61.5% are unmarried, with the remainder being divorced, separated or widowed. A third of them live either in graveyards or on the streets, while 5.5% live in abandoned buildings.
Sewage lines, abandoned buildings, graveyards and shrines are also the favoured locations for shooting up, along with parks, under bridges, fields and at home.
Almost all (91%) admitted to injecting drugs in groups, with 40.3% of them “often” sharing syringes and 2.5% “always” doing so. Only 22.9% said they never shared needles, with 33.8% saying they “rarely” did it. Incidentally, fellow IDUs are a popular source for getting syringes, with 46.8% claiming this source, and 6.5% admitting to relying on non-IDU sources.
When asked if they kept the entry point clean, in the last six months 14.9% of the participants had abscesses and wounds where they injected once, 11.9% twice and 6.5% thrice.
Nearly half (47%) had no awareness of HIV or AIDS, while those that did, listed friends and newspapers as their main sources of information on the subject.
Some of them have already had serious health issues, with 21.9% of the respondents having undergone major surgery, while 33.3% had suffered from jaundice, and others had reported tuberculosis, asthma, fits and mental disorders. In addition, 19.4% have undergone minor surgeries.
Nearly half (44%) have received medical treatment for drug dependence, with 37.5% saying they feel an “extremely urgent” need for medical treatment, and another 55 per cent admitting to an “urgent” need for treatment.
Most respondents (79.4%) also have a history of being arrested, mostly on drug-related charges. Apart from the 13.4% charged with selling drugs, another 61.7% were arrested for possession of drugs. One in five respondents were arrested for violent crimes, with 1.5% charged with murder. Others were booked for theft, robbery, pick-pocketing and fraud.
Published in The Express Tribune, April 1st, 2012.