Santé et Services sociaux Québec

Previous page    Text size

World AIDS Day 2007 Edition

2007 World Aids Day
“The less we judge, the more we can help prevent people who inject drugs from catching or transmitting HIV”

Distribution of the 2007 World AIDS Day poster begun during the second week of November. As usual, posters will be sent to partners in the health and social services network and to community organizations involved in the fight against AIDS.

This year for World AIDS Day, the Ministère de la Santé et des Services sociaux has decided to focus on public awareness of the needs of people who use injection drugs so they can have better support to prevent them from catching or spreading HIV.

Discrimination, ostracisation and lack of support for needle exchange programs can cause these individuals to feel rejected and to think that taking care of their health and protecting themselves against HIV and hepatitis it is not worth it.
Every year since 1988, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) has designated December 1st as World AIDS Day. On this occasion, participating countries and organizations take the opportunity to reassert their commitment to the fight against HIV and AIDS and to raise awareness around the world about this important health problem that affects 40 million people worldwide.

The problem is real and it affects thousands of Quebecers daily. In Québec, according to the most recent available data, it is estimated that:

about 17,000 people are living with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), most of whom are men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, and people who come from countries where HIV is endemic;
— A thousand people contracted the infection in the past year.
— About a hundred people die of AIDS in Québec every year.

World AIDS Day provides an opportunity to raise public awareness about the adoption of preventive behaviours without stigmatising people living with HIV. It is important to remember that treatment advances now help many people with HIV and AIDS live longer, more active lives. However, at this time, there is no medication that can cure AIDS nor is there a vaccine to prevent transmission of the virus. In addition, unfortunately, the epidemic is spreading to disadvantaged populations with numerous risk factors or living in conditions that foster transmission of the infection. Epidemiological data indicate that 15% of the estimated 23,000 injection drug users (IDU) in Québec have HIV infection. These individuals are also struggling with an explosive epidemic of hepatitis C: 62% have hepatitis C virus and the incidence rate of infection is 27.5 per 100 person-years (1 out of 4 injection drug users gets infected every year).

Prevention of sexually transmitted and blood borne infections (STBI) among IDU is an important issue for the Ministère and the health and social services network. As part of its strategy on HIV, hepatitis C and the STI, the MSSS has asked health and social services agencies to mobilize community groups, health and social services centres, university hospitals and pharmacies so that IDU can access HIV and hepatitis B and C transmission prevention programs. In addition to the measures advocated for the distribution and collection of injection equipment, other effective ways to reduce transmission of these STBI among IDU include education concerning safer injection, access to psychosocial services, access to condoms, methadone treatment and social integration.

There are now 787 centres where IDU have access to injection equipment in Québec. Every year over 1.3 million needles are handed out during the 104,000 visits by IDU. The effectiveness of IDU’s having access to needles to contain the HIV epidemic among people who use injection drugs has been clearly demonstrated. However some challenges remain, especially as concerns transmission of hepatitis C virus. One specific aspect that is worrisome is the stigmatization of people who inject drugs. The perceptions other people have of these individuals are often fraught with prejudices caused by the fact that the drugs IDU use are considered illegal. Many people who use injection drugs find it difficult to adapt socially and are not necessarily able to imagine being capable of stopping their drug use. It is important that we help them out, but it is essential that they succeed to do so without getting HIV or hepatitis C infection.