People who use drugs are an important priority for HIV programs. However, data related to their utilization of HIV services are limited. This paper reports patterns of HIV testing, drug use, and risk and service perception among people who use drugs. Study participants were receiving HIV and harm reduction services from a community-based program in Phnom Penh, comprised of itinerant peer-led outreach and static drop-in centers.
This was a mixed-methods study conducted in 2014, comprising of a quantitative survey using a structured questionnaire, followed by two focus group discussions among a sub-sample of survey participants. Participants were recruited from hotspots in five HIV high-burden communes using a two-stage cluster sampling method. Quantitative descriptive analyses and qualitative thematic analyses were performed.
This study included 151 people who use drugs with a mean age of 31.2 (SD = 6.5) years; 77.5% were male and 39.1% were married. The most common drugs used were methamphetamines (72.8%) and heroin (39.7%), and 38.0% injected drugs in the past 3 months. Overall, 83.3% had been tested for HIV in the past 6 months, of whom 62.5% had been tested by peers through community-based outreach. However, there were ongoing HIV risks: 37.3% were engaging in sex on drugs, only 35.6% used a condom at last sexual intercourse, and 10.8% had had a sexually transmitted infection in the last 6 months. Among people who reported injecting drugs in the past 3 months, 27.5% reported re-using needles/syringes. Almost half (46.5%) perceived themselves as being at lower risk of HIV compared to the general population. Qualitative results contextualized the findings of low perception of HIV risks and suggested that although services were often unavailable on weekends, at night, or during national holidays, peer-led community-based outreach was highly accepted.
A peer-led community-based approach was effective in reaching people who use drugs with HIV and harm reduction interventions. To mitigate ongoing HIV risks, expanding access to combination prevention interventions and implementing strategies to enable people who use drugs to objectively assess their HIV risks are required. Additionally, community-based programs should collect data along the care continuum, to enable decentralized tracking of progress towards 90-90-90 goals at local levels.