November 12, 2007 / 2:46 PM / 11 years ago

Drug injecting triggers most Mauritius HIV cases

ROCHE BOIS, Mauritius, Nov 12 (Reuters) - Drug abuse accounts for 92 percent of new HIV infections in Mauritius, up from just 14 percent in 2002, the government said on Monday.

The Indian Ocean island nation has an estimated HIV prevalence rate of 1.8 percent, which is low for the region. On the African mainland, HIV infection rates stand at 16.1 percent in Mozambique and 18.8 percent in South Africa, for example.

But officials say risky practices like sharing needles used for injecting drugs are causing many more infections. Mauritius suffers the second highest rate of heroin and opiate use in the world, according to U.N. figures.

"Some 92 percent of the virus’ transmission today is through the exchange of needles by drug addicts," said Mauritius’ minister of health and quality of life, Satya Faugoo.

The government was expanding a needle exchange programme to supply drug users, he said.

"Initially, we are targeting some 2,000 drug addicts by June," Faugoo told Reuters, adding that the authorities were also planning to treat another 1,000 addicts with opiate substitute methadone.

Mauritius has an estimated 20,000 drug addicts among its 1.3 million population, according to government figures, but many people who work with users think the real number is higher. (Reporting by Ed Harris; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Caroline Drees)

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