Changes in HIV risk behaviour in clients of syringe-exchange schemes in England and Scotland


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Abstract

The impact of syringe-exchange schemes on the behaviour of injecting drug users was investigated through self-reported behaviour change. Fifteen syringe-exchange schemes in England and Scotland participated in a government-sponsored pilot programme from April 1987. Clients were provided with sterile injecting equipment and condoms, and with knowledge of HIV risks. One hundred and forty-two injecting drug users who first attended between April 1987 and March 1988 participated in a prospective interview-based survey with questions at two points in time. Measurements were self-reported attitudinal, knowledge and behavioural changes relevant to HIV infection and transmission. Many clients maintained or adopted low-risk behaviours: 79% sustained or adopted low or lower levels of syringe sharing. Trends identified include decreases in syringe-sharing, from 34 to 27%; using others' syringes (risk of infection) from 25 to 19%; passing on syringes (risk of transmission) from 30 to 25%. Many clients reported changes in sexual behaviour; those with sexual partners decreased from 77 to 69% and those with two or more sexual partners from 26 to 21%. However, non-use of condoms increased from 62 to 79%. Comparison groups of non-attenders showed higher levels of risk behaviour (59–62% sharing syringes, 86–88% with sexual partners). Overall, changes in HIV risk behaviour show small but encouraging trends and support arguments that injectors can be helped to change their behaviour, which could be of cumulative importance in reducing the spread of HIV.

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