New HIV prevention strategy to target injecting drug users, gay men, sex workers

The Health Protection Agency’s (HPA) new national strategy on HIV prevention will scale up prevention programmes in key affected populations of injecting drug users, sex workers, men who have sex with men.

By 2016, the HPA aims to reach at least 60 percent of injecting drug users to promote the safe use of injecting equipment and consistent condom use with sexual partners.

The HPA aims to reach 80 percent of sex workers and men who are having sex with men to promote the consistent use of condoms.

The health ministry has previously said the Maldives was sitting on an HIV “time bomb” due to the lack of prevention programmes and specialised care for groups at risk.

The HPA has previously expressed concern over the prevalence of behaviors that increase risk of HIV spread such as promiscuity, unsafe sex and intravenous drug use.

There are nine individuals receiving treatment for HIV at present. The HPA estimates there are 32 individuals living with HIV in the Maldives. The figure could reach 123 by 2020 if prevention measures are not put in place, the agency said today.

Meanwhile, the Society for Health Education (SHE) has called for the integration of sexual reproductive health services and HIV prevention efforts.

“Integrating sexual reproductive and HIV prevention has the potential to stem an HIV pandemic. When vulnerable groups have increased access to and use sexual reproductive health services, it decreases the spread of HIV,” Shiyama Anwar of SHE said.

“Integration of these services provides a more comprehensive service that benefits both the clients and service providers,” she added.

According to the HPA, it currently only receives 15 percent of requested funds for HIV prevention, care, and treatment. The majority of the funds released from state budget are spent on treatment of infected individuals rather than on prevention.

The agency has called on the government to scale up sexual reproductive services and HIV prevention programmes, arguing interventions such as life skill programs for youth would only cost MVR350 per person while the state spends over MVR50,000 on each individual infected with HIV.

In the period between 2006 and 2013, 161 female victims of rape, which included underage girls became pregnant, HPA figures explain. The state spends MVR 174,000 on each child every year under state care. In comparison, providing quality contraceptives only costs MVR 1000 per person annually.

Meanwhile, the state spends MVR 22,900 per month on every individual receiving state care at drug rehabilitation centers. However, methadone or oral substitution treatment would only cost MVR14,400 and comprehensive awareness programmes would only cost MVR 800 per child, says the agency.

The HPA has called on the People’s Majlis to integrate services on HIV prevention, sexual reproductive health, and drug abuse, and grant service providers with adequate financial resources.

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