Vulnerability to HIV infection among sex worker and non-sex worker female injecting drug users in Dhaka, Bangladesh: evidence from the baseline survey of a cohort study

Harm Reduct J. 2006 Nov 17;3:33. doi: 10.1186/1477-7517-3-33.


Background: Very little is known about female injecting drug users (IDU) in Bangladesh but anecdotal evidence suggests that they are hidden and very vulnerable to HIV through both their injection sharing and sexual risk behaviors. In order to better understand the risks and vulnerability to HIV of female IDU, a cohort study was initiated through which HIV prevalence and risk behaviors was determined.

Methods: All female IDU (those who had injected in the last six months and were 15 years or older) who could be identified from three cities in the Dhaka region were enrolled at the baseline of a cohort study. The study was designed to determine risk behaviors through interviews using a semi-structured questionnaire and measure prevalence of HIV, hepatitis C and syphilis semiannually. At the baseline of the cohort study 130 female IDU were recruited and female IDU selling sex in the last year (sex workers) versus those not selling sex (non-sex workers) were compared using descriptive statistics and logistic regression.

Results: Of the 130 female IDU enrolled 82 were sex workers and 48 were non-sex workers. None had HIV but more sex workers (60%) had lifetime syphilis than non-sex workers (37%). Fewer sex worker than non-sex worker IDU lived with families (54.9% and 81.3% respectively), but more reported lending needles/syringes (29.3% and 14.6% respectively) and sharing other injection paraphernalia (74.4% and 56.3% respectively) in the past six months. Although more sex workers used condoms during last sex than non-sex workers (74.4% and 43.3% respectively), more reported anal sex (15.9% and 2.1% respectively) and serial sex with multiple partners (70.7% and 0% respectively). Lifetime sexual violence and being jailed in the last year was more common in sex workers.

Conclusion: Female IDU are vulnerable to HIV through their injection and sexual risk behaviors and sex worker IDU appear especially vulnerable. Services such as needle exchange programs should become more comprehensive to address the needs of female IDU.