Needle exchange programmes guard against HIV

Clean needles reduce the risk of HIV transmission.
Clean needles reduce the risk of HIV transmission.

Needle exchange programmes in two large US cities prevented thousands of new HIV infections and saved hundreds of millions of dollars, researchers say.

Needle, or syringe, exchange programmes prevented nearly 10 600 new cases of HIV in Philadelphia and almost 1 900 new cases of HIV in Baltimore over 10 years, leading to significant savings for the cities, the new study found.

Sterile equipment

"Small investments in syringe exchange programmes yield large savings in treatment costs," said principal investigator Monica Ruiz. She's an associate professor at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, in Washington, D.C.

"Syringe exchange programmes represent a powerful way to stop the spread of HIV, especially in communities struggling to fight the opioid epidemic," Ruiz added in a university news release.

The programmes provide sterile injection equipment to injection drug users in order to reduce the sharing of needles, which can spread HIV.

Most people who use injection drugs are covered by public health insurance. Philadelphia saved about $243 million (±R3 643 million) every year due to the drop in new HIV cases, while Baltimore saved about $62 million (±R929 million) a year, the researchers concluded.

Other health services

The study also looked at the lifetime cost of treating someone with HIV and the cost of a needle exchange programme. The investigators found that the one-year return on syringe exchange programme investment was nearly $183 million (±R2 744 million) in Philadelphia, and about $47 million (±R704 million) in Baltimore.

The findings may help policymakers understand the benefits of funding needle exchange programmes, according to the researchers.

"Giving injection drug users access to clean syringes can not only help them avoid HIV but often helps them obtain other health services, including access to drug treatment programmes," Ruiz said. "Such programmes offer communities huge public health and societal benefits, including a reduction in new HIV cases and cost savings to publicly funded HIV care."

The study will be published online in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndromes.

Image credit: iStock

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