Eleven countries (Armenia, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bulgaria, China, Georgia, Latvia, Republic of Moldova, Nepal, Russian Federation and the Ukraine) reported data that met the inclusion criteria for all 5 indicators. Countries were more likely to report on some indicators than others: 38 reported on HIV testing (27 met the inclusion criteria); 26 reported on HIV prevention programs (15 met inclusion criteria); 32 reported on HIV prevention knowledge (19 met inclusion criteria); 34 reported on condom use (29 met inclusion criteria); and 34 reported on injecting practices (29 met inclusion criteria).
The size of samples from which countries drew data varied considerably across different indicators-from 159 to 21,490.
Twenty-seven countries (accounting for 59% of the estimated number of IDUs in LMICs) reported on HIV testing among injectors. In 6 of those 27 countries, more than 45% of the sampled injectors reported having undergone HIV testing in the previous year. The IDU population-weighted mean rate of testing among injectors in these 27 reporting countries was 36%. Regional IDU population estimates were calculated for the 6 regions, where data were available from 2 or more countries (Table 2). HIV testing among people who inject drugs was found to be lowest in the Middle East and North Africa region (2 countries, weighted mean of 9%) and highest in Latin America (2 countries, mean = 78%). Eastern Europe contained the largest number of reporting countries (10 countries), with a weighted regional mean of 50%.
HIV Prevention Programs
Reported levels of access to HIV prevention programs as measured by the UNGASS indicator varied considerably (5%-89%) across the 15 countries (representing 48% of all IDUs in LMICs) that reported data, which met the inclusion criteria of this review. Weighted by estimated IDU population size, the mean proportion in these 15 reporting countries of sampled injectors who knew where they could receive an HIV test and who had also received both condoms and sterile injecting equipment in the last 12 months was 26%. Only in 3 regions did 2 or more countries report data that met the inclusion criteria for this indicator (Table 3): Eastern Europe (8 countries) and East and South East Asia (3 countries) had similar weighted means (28% and 26%, respectively), whereas South Asia (2 countries) had a much higher mean of 80% for this indicator.
HIV Prevention Knowledge
Nineteen countries (accounting for 53% of IDUs from LMICs) reported data meeting the inclusion criteria for the indicator on HIV prevention knowledge among IDUs (Table 4). In 6 of these 19 countries, more than 50% of sampled injectors were able to correctly answer questions related to HIV prevention. South Asia (3 countries) had the lowest calculated regional IDU population-weighted mean (28%) and Central Asia (2 countries) the highest (63%).
Twenty-nine countries (containing 65% of the estimated number of IDUs in LMICs) reported on condom use among IDUs at the time of last sexual intercourse, with an overall IDU population-weighted mean of 37% (Table 5). Regional weighted estimates ranged from 11% for the Middle East and North Africa (2 countries) to 93% for Latin America (2 countries).
Safe Injecting Practices
Twenty-nine countries reported on the use of sterile injecting equipment at last injecting, with an IDU population-weighted mean of 63% (Table 6). The highest regional IDU population weighted mean was observed for Eastern Europe (11 countries; mean of 77%) and the lowest in the Middle East and North Africa (2 countries; mean 10%).
HIV prevention interventions must target and successfully reach most-at-risk populations such as people who inject drugs, especially in countries where epidemics are being fuelled by the sharing of contaminated injecting equipment.
The data provided in the 2008 UNGASS reporting round suggest that for each of the 5 IDU-related indicators, the LMICs reporting data represent approximately 50% or more of the total population of injectors estimated to live in all LMICs. For the 2 indicators assessing HIV prevention behaviors, this proportion approaches two-thirds (65% for the condom use indicator and 63% for the safe injecting practices indicator).
The overall level of coverage reported for the indicator assessing the reach of HIV prevention programs for IDU was especially low, with approximately 25% (IDU population-weighted mean) of IDUs reporting that they knew where to get tested for HIV and had received condoms and syringes in the last 12 months. This is far below what is considered universal access to HIV prevention services. However, it is important to note that harm reduction programs for injectors have been initiated relatively recently in many of these LMICs.
Levels of HIV testing in the last 12 months were higher than levels of access to HIV prevention services. HIV testing can serve as a gateway for access to antiretroviral and other treatment. It is also an HIV prevention education opportunity and an access point for other HIV prevention services. The data collected, however, do not indicate whether or not testing was voluntary. It is possible that the higher levels of testing reported in this round reflect, to some extent, mandatory testing of subpopulations of IDUs (such as those who are incarcerated or who attend health care facilities). Encouragingly, reports from the LMICs that did provide data indicate that a majority of IDUs report using a sterile syringe at the last injection. However, the behaviors of IDUs in countries that did not report data (home to an estimated 37% of people who inject drugs in LMICs) are not known.
There are limitations to the indicator data reported by countries and to the analysis of these data described here.
Because so few countries reported consistently across all the indicators we examined here, it was not possible to deduce regional trends.
Very little detailed information is available on the methods used to collect the data that countries submit. In particular, in the absence of information regarding how and where samples were recruited, it is difficult to interpret many of these indicators. The samples investigated may not be representative of the total population of injectors in a country. Sampling of sentinel populations that are commonly accessed via service sites introduces a likely bias when measuring service coverage, that is, availability of HIV prevention services tends to be higher than in the rest of the country. Thus, there is potential risk of overestimating levels of service coverage. In addition, it is possible that many countries may report data from samples gathered in a single or limited number of geographic locations. Few countries provided information on where samples were drawn from. But, among those that did provide such information, sampling invariably was reported to have occurred in large cities only. In the Russian Federation, for example, samples were gathered from 3 major cities only, whereas it is known that injecting occurs in other locations and the levels of services provided is inconsistent across these different settings. It is therefore possible that the heterogeneity of IDUs, of their behavior and of their access to services within a country may not be reflected in these data.
The reporting process itself is also subject to inaccuracy if countries make errors or omissions in the reports they submit. All data submitted are reviewed and checked for irregularities, but this does not exclude the possibility of incorrect data going undetected as the reviewers do not have access to original source material or information.
Furthermore, a lack of comparable data from other sources prevents verification of the data on these indicators reported by countries. An extensive search of the peer-reviewed and grey literature yielded relatively few data that were similar enough to allow comparison with the UNGASS reported data. There seemed to be a substantial amount of other data being collected on the reach of HIV prevention programs and HIV prevention behaviors of people who injected drugs. For the most part, however, these data were either from the very same source as submitted to UNAIDS (and thus identical) or, conversely, were too dissimilar to compare directly with the data from the UNGASS process.
In addition, the indicators in the 2008 UNGASS reporting round have some inherent limitations that are important to recognize. For example, the indicator assessing the reach of HIV prevention programs does not measure the quality of services provided. This indicator only measures whether or not an injector has accessed a service at least once in the last 12 months (but with no qualification of the nature of that contact).
The indicator definitions are necessarily strict to allow for comparison of data from different countries. However, this also leads to data from many countries being excluded from the analysis. This may reflect difficulties countries face when reporting against these indicators, or it may be that the UNGASS indicators are not regarded as appropriate measures in particular country contexts.
The situation in a large number of countries is not reported, however, it is important that efforts are made to gain understanding of the status of HIV prevention in those countries and to identify factors that might impede data collection or reporting.
Although the data reported for many LMIC countries suggest that many IDUs do have an understanding of how to prevent HIV transmission and that some are using condoms and, to some extent, inject with clean injecting equipment, it is clear that many remain at risk of sexual and injecting-related transmission of HIV. In addition, the goal of universal access to HIV prevention programs for IDUs is far from being achieved in LMICs. Given the role of IDUs in contributing to and in some regions, driving the HIV epidemics, failure to adequately address HIV transmission among IDUs is a serious barrier to achieve the targets of the Millennium Development Goal (MDG 6), which calls halting and reversing the spread of HIV/AIDS by 2015.
The UNGASS indicators are not intended to be a comprehensive set of measures for monitoring all aspects of countries' HIV prevention programs. Instead, they are proposed to provide an index with which countries' responses can be compared and to assist in monitoring progress of the overall global response. Despite these limitations and the difficulties inherent in monitoring and evaluating the current state of HIV prevention responses for people who inject drugs, the 2008 UNGASS reporting round does provide a useful baseline against which future progress might be measured. If in future rounds a greater number of countries report on these indicators and if there continues to be an improvement in the quality of the data submitted, this dataset will be of even greater value in understanding progress toward universal access and achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. This is critical given the continued absence of any comparable global assessment mechanism.
Tim Slade and Deborah Randall, (National Drug and Alcohol Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia) provided advice on statistical analysis and Tim Slade performed the meta-analyses and meta-regressions.
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APPENDIX 1. Low and Middle Income Countries (LMIC) in 2007 as classified by the World Bank3 (147 countries) and, of these, where injecting drug use has been reported marked with * (99 countries)
Central African Republic
Congo, Democratic Republic of The
Iran, Islamic Republic of*
Korea, Democratic People's Republic of
Lao People's Democratic Republic*
Libyan Arab Jamahiriya*
Macedonia, The FYRO*
Micronesia, Fed. States of*
Moldova, Republic of*
Papua New Guinea*
Saint Kitts and Nevis
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines
Sao Tome & Principe
Syrian Arab Republic*
Tanzania, United Republic of*
Trinidad and Tobago
Keywords:© 2009 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.
condom use; HIV/AIDS; HIV prevention; HIV testing and counselling; HIV knowledge; injecting drug use; monitoring and evaluation