Strategy helps prevent HIV across Australia

About 500,000 needles and syringes have been distributed to Northern Territory drug injectors in the past year. The NT’s Aids &Hepatitis Council also revealed there was a reported 7000 “episodes of service” to clients to the Darwin, Palmerston and Alice Springs exchange in the same period. Across the country, 30 million needles and syringes were distributed in the past 12 months.

The number of needles and syringes distributed in the NT has remained largely static over the past two years.

NTAHC executive director Kim Gates told the NT News the Territory’s successful needle and syringe program (NSP), which was established in the 1980s as a harm-reduction strategy, had helped contribute to the prevention of more than 32,000 cases of HIV across Australia.

“It is about reducing harm and particularly the reduction in blood-borne viruses in the community,” Ms Gates said.

We have a position that we advocate because they are people and they have rights. We see our role as an education one. They have rights and needs in relation to health so we don’t demonise the drug users – but we are not saying everyone should go out and use drugs.”

The NSPs – there are about 3000 across the country – provide clean injecting equipment, information, education and referral to people who choose to inject drugs.

Ms Gates said the national program came in response to the HIV and viral hepatitis epidemic, reaching out to intravenous drug users to halt the spread.

In the decade to 2008 it was estimated NSPs prevented 32,000 cases of HIV and almost 100,000 cases of hepatitis C, while saving more than $1 billion in healthcare costs.

NSPs in the NT are operated by NTAHC and the NT Department of Health, who are able to distribute injecting equipment for the purpose of harm reduction under the NT Misuse of Drugs Act.

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