Author(s): Bastos FI, Strathdee SA, Bastos FI, Strathdee SA
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Abstract Although a large body of international literature has found syringe exchange programmes (SEPs) to be associated with reduced incidence of blood borne pathogens among injection drug users, recent studies have fuelled controversy surrounding SEP effectiveness. Existing studies are observational in nature and have seldom considered ecologic aspects affecting SEP functioning and evaluation. The authors apply concepts from infectious disease epidemiology to discuss the direct and indirect effects of SEP upon the spread of blood borne pathogens in drug users, their social networks and the broader community. Further, the authors discuss social policies, particularly drug control policies, which have directly and/or indirectly limited SEP functioning at local and national levels. A critical review of the literature suggests that biases common to observational studies can account for higher HIV incidence among SEP attenders relative to non-attenders. Strong selection factors often lead high-risk drug users to be over-represented among SEP attenders. Failure to account for these factors and the indirect effects of SEPs can bias interpretations of programme effectiveness. Future SEP evaluations should consider behavioural data, the local ethnographic context, the prevalence of infectious disease in the groups under study and the structural components of SEP that are most and least effective at reducing incidence of blood borne pathogens. Hierarchical models that take into account the ecological dimensions of SEP are recommended as an approach for future studies. Beyond methodologic concerns, the authors discuss social, legal and programmatic obstacles that must be overcome in order to maximise SEP effectiveness.
This article was published in Soc Sci Med
and referenced in Journal of AIDS & Clinical Research