Sexual health of the partners of people who inject drugs

'Women at risk': the health and social vulnerabilities of the regular female partners of men who inject drugs in Delhi, India.

Sharma V, Sarna A, Luchters S, Sebastian M, Degomme O, Saraswati LR, Madan I, Thior I, Tun W. Cult Health Sex. 2014 Dec 2:1-15. [Epub ahead of print]

Needle and syringe sharing is common among people who inject drugs and so is unprotected sex, which consequently puts their sex partners at risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV and other blood-borne infections, like hepatitis. We undertook a nested study with the regular female partners of men who inject drugs participating in a longitudinal HIV incidence study in Delhi, India. In-depth interviews were conducted with female partners of 32 men. The interviews aimed to gather focused and contextual knowledge of determinants of safe sex and reproductive health needs of these women. Information obtained through interviews was triangulated and linked to the baseline behavioural data of their partner (index men who injected drugs). The study findings illustrate that women in monogamous relationships have a low perception of STI- and HIV-related risk. Additionally, lack of awareness about hepatitis B and C is a cause of concern. Findings also suggest impact of male drug use on the fertility of the female partner. It is critical to empower regular female partners to build their self-risk assessment skills and self-efficacy to negotiate condom use. Future work must explore the role of drug abuse among men who inject drugs in predicting fertility and reproductive morbidity among their female partners.

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Editor’s notes: This is an interesting study describing the HIV and sexual health needs of female partners of people who inject drugs (PWID). The study’s strengths lie in the innovative way in which female partners of PWID were reached and recruited into the study. Female partners of PWID are a highly hidden group and there has been little research conducted among them, with research focussing mostly on PWID and their HIV risk. Therefore the approach to identifying female partners through an existing cohort of male PWID is highly innovative and provides new information on a hidden population. Findings have important implications for HIV programmes for this population. These include the need to increase uptake of HIV testing, teach the importance of condoms as a contraceptive method and for HIV prevention, as well as dispelling myths that assumed monogamy is a sufficient prevention tool. The paper clearly illustrates that addressing sexual and reproductive health needs of this population is paramount, including addressing problems with infertility and the need for contraceptives. The paper usefully highlights the impact of a male partner’s drug use on the daily lives of their female partner, including increased poverty and high levels of violence.

Asia
India
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