HIV and hepatitis C prevalence, and related risk behaviours among people who inject drugs in three cities in Croatia: Findings from respondent-driven sampling surveys

Senad Handanagic, Ivana Bozicevic, Marta Civljak, Zoran Dominkovic, Sandra Sevic, Jelena Barbaric, Tatjana Nemeth Blazic, Oktavija Dakovic Rode, Josip Begovac
International Journal on Drug Policy 2016, 32: 57-63

BACKGROUND: There are limited data on HIV and hepatitis C virus (HCV) epidemiology among people who inject drugs (PWID) in Croatia. This study aims to provide data on HIV and HCV prevalence and sexual and injecting risk behaviours among PWID in Zagreb, Split, and Rijeka.

METHODS: Using respondent-driven sampling (RDS) we recruited from November 2014 to February 2015 a total of 176 PWID in Zagreb, 255 in Rijeka and 399 in Split. Participants provided biological specimens for HIV and HCV testing and completed a behavioural questionnaire.

RESULTS: The proportion of female PWID ranged from 19.5% in Zagreb to 26.0% in Split. In the month before the survey, 2.5% of PWID in Split, 5.6% in Rijeka and 8.0% in Zagreb reported sharing non-sterile needles and syringes. Many PWID injected opioid substitution therapy (OST) in the month before the survey (57.0% in Zagreb and 57.5% in Split and Rijeka, respectively). Among PWID who had a casual sexual partner in the past 12 months (ranging from 39.2% in Split to 44.4% in Rijeka) condom use was low. Although HIV prevalence was low (0.2% in Rijeka and Zagreb, 0.3% in Split), HCV antibody prevalence was considerable (29.1% in Zagreb, 31.5% in Rijeka, 38.3% in Split). HIV and HCV testing coverage in the past 12 months was insufficient (6.8% and 7.0% in Split; 13.2% and 13.5% in Zagreb; 20.2% and 21.5% in Rijeka, respectively).

CONCLUSION: We found a low-level HIV epidemic and a sizable HCV epidemic among PWID in Zagreb, Split and Rijeka. Presence of high-risk injecting and sexual behaviours together with inadequate HIV and HCV testing coverage call for development of a comprehensive approach to harm reduction and introduction of needle and syringe exchange programmes in prisons, as well as strengthening sexual health interventions.

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