A surge of new cases of HIV infection among injection drug users in Taiwan has led to proposals for doubling of expenditure on HIV education next year according to a health official.
Last year authorities spent NT$140 million on HIV prevention which is only a 10th of the total budget for HIV programs, according to Yang Shih-yang, director of AIDS and tuberculosis prevention at Taiwan's Center for Disease Control. However, next year this will be increased to NT$280 million for public awareness campaigns.
The shared use of infected drug material has led to an increase in new HIV cases by 124 percent to 3,403 in Taiwan.
Yang said, `The fundamental problem is health education. We need to spend more on prevention,' he said, adding that in 2006, new infections may fall for the first year in more than two decades.
Researchers in a letter published in the April edition of Emerging Infectious Diseases journal said that in Taiwan, injection drug use carries the highest risk of HIV infection. Data from Taiwan's CDC revealed that drug users accounted for more than 60 percent of the 2,499 new cases recorded in the first 10 months of this year.
Arthur Chen, director of the AIDS prevention and research center at Taipei's National Yang Ming University said, 'Drug users start from recreational drugs and move up to intravenous drugs.'
Chen said that surveys of the prison population and drug users indicate Taiwan's tally of HIV sufferers may be as high as 30,000 which was almost three times the official number.
Teresa Hsieh, executive director of Taipei-based AIDS support group Lourdes Association, told the briefing. HIV awareness campaigns have focused more on high-risk sexual behavior said, 'Our government neglected education targeted at drug users.'
In addition a survey of female injecting-heroin users in Taiwan found many held misconceptions regarding the modes of HIV transmission and those who didn't perceive themselves susceptible to AIDS rarely used condoms and occasionally shared needles.
Hsieh said that discrimination, even from some health-care workers, is driving the problem underground and hindering HIV/AIDS sufferers' ability to receive medical treatment.
She said, 'Some hospitals which are not designated for treating AIDS are refusing treatment. Patients want to tell the doctor that they're HIV positive, but if you tell them you won't get even basic treatment.'