ISLAMABAD - According to an assessment, the prevalence rate of HIV/AIDS among injecting drug users (IDUs) in Rawalpindi has increased to 37.8 per cent from 2.7 per cent in the last five years.

The findings also reveal that 26.4 per cent of the surveyed participants of less than 18 years of age have started injecting drugs. About 201 IDUs at different spots in the city were interviewed and tested during the assessment sponsored by Mainline Foundation, Ministry of Foreign Affairs Netherlands and conducted by Nai Zindagi Trust (NZT) - a frontline non-governmental organisation working to minimize threat of HIV/AIDS spread among IDUs.

An assessment by London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine in 2007 had put the prevalence of HIV/AIDS among IDUs in Rawalpindi at 2.7 in 2007 while a following assessment conducted by NZT in collaboration with the Punjab AIDS Control Programme (PACP) in 2009 had found it to be at 28 percent.

The study divulged that 26.4 percent of the survey participants had started injecting drugs when they were less than 18 years of age. As many as 32.8 percent fell in the trap in the age between 18-24 years while another 22.9 percent started doing it in age of 25-30 years.

The current age of most of the participants was between 18 and 30 years, with only 6 per cent of those of 44 years and above, 66.8 percent of the IDUs were born in the city while 18.6 percent migrated to the city more than five years ago. Others are living in the city for the last one and five years.

Among them 44.2 percent have no educational background while 44.6 percent went to schools for one to eight years but they also include those who achieved masters’ degree. And 47 percent of the respondents had no awareness of HIV/AIDS, while friends and newspapers are the main sources of information for those who said they were aware of it.

50.7 percent of the survey participants have income greater than Rs 10000 per month while 47.3 percent have income between Rs 5000 to 10000 while 16.9 percent of them are beggars, 4.5 percent sell drugs and 3.5 percent are pick-pockets, 35.5 percent of them are labourers and 19.4 percent doing odd jobs.

Fellow IDUs are the source of acquisition of syringes for 46.8 percent of them while 6.5 percent get these from their non-IDU friends. ‘24.5 percent of the IDUs in the city are married, 61.5 percent unmarried, while others are divorced, separated or widowed persons. 37.8 percent of them live either in graveyards or streets while 5.5 percent live in abandoned buildings.’ 

The study said 21.9 percent of the respondents have undergone major surgeries while 33.3 percent have suffered from jaundice and others with tuberculosis, asthma, fits and mental disorders. In addition, 19.4 percent have undergone minor surgeries and 14.9 percent of the participants had abscesses and wounds at the injecting spot once, 11.9 percent twice and 6.5 percent thrice during the last six months.

Out of surveyed respondents 44 percent had a history of receiving medical treatment for drug dependence,  37.5 percent of them said they feel extremely urgent need for medical treatment while another 55 percent were in need of urgent treatment.

79.4 percent of the respondents have a history of being arrested. 61.7 percent were arrested for possessing drugs, 19.4 percent for violence, 13.4 percent on charges of selling drugs and 1.5 percent on murder charges. Others were booked for theft, robbery, pick pocketing and fraud, it said.