PUBLIC health policies that the government put in place seven years ago to assist those who inject drugs are found to avert new HIV infections, save lives and reduce health care costs, according to a new study funded by the World Bank.
In 2006, Malaysia launched two programmes of “harm reduction” interventions, initially on a limited scale — the Needle & Syringe Programme, where those who inject drugs are offered clean needles and syringes, and Methadone Maintenance Therapy, offering heroin addicts enrolment in rehabilitation therapy where heroin is replaced with synthetic methadone.
These harm reduction programmes have succeeded, and Malaysia has now expanded them nationwide.
“We would like to congratulate the Malaysian Government for taking the lead in implementing these cost-effective and cost-saving harm reduction interventions targeting people who inject drugs,” said Ulrich Zachau, World Bank country director for Malaysia. “We hope this study will inspire policymakers in other countries in the Asia-Pacific region that face similar HIV epidemics among people who inject drugs.”
According to new research, both harm reduction programmes have also been cost-effective. The new research was led by the Centre of Excellence for Research in AIDS at the University of Malaya, in collaboration with the Kirby Institute, University of New South Wales.
Such interventions are estimated to avert 23,241 new HIV infections as well as result in savings of RM210 million in direct health care costs. The study estimated that 12,653 HIV infections were successfully averted since 2006 with the implementation of both programmes, targeting people who inject drugs.
These averted infections have resulted in savings of RM47.1 million in direct health care costs, which the government would have had to spend on treatment and monitoring.