Drug use and sexual risk behaviours among female Russian IDUs who exchange sex for money or drugs

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SummaryCountries of the former Soviet Union are experiencing the steepest increases in annual HIV incidence in the world. Over 80% of registered HIV cases in Russia have occurred among intravenous drug users (IDUs), but current conditions set the stage for a heterosexually-transmitted epidemic. IDUs who also trade sex for money or drugs may serve as a conduit, or ‘bridge’ group, through which HIV could make inroads into the general Russian population. The present study examined the prevalence of sex trading among female Russian IDUs, and further examined drug use, sexual behaviour, and perceived vulnerability in this group. Female IDUs (n = 100) in St Petersburg, Russia participated; 37% reported a history of sex trading. This group reported a mean of 49.5 male sexual partners in the previous month and an average of 15.4 unprotected vaginal intercourse acts in the previous 30 days. A significant minority (44%) also reported sharing injection equipment with others. Mathematical models to calculate risk estimates for HIV seroconversion indicated that participants were at significant risk of contracting HIV and infecting sexual partners. Despite significant rates of risk behaviours, most participants perceived themselves to be at little risk of contracting HIV. Effective HIV prevention programmes targeted at this group are urgently needed and are likely to be a cost-effective step in curtailing the spread of HIV in the region.

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