At what point do people need a fix so bad that they are willing to inject another person’s blood into themselves? With the constant presence of AIDS related deaths in Africa, and the progressive educational-outreach towards sex workers and addicts, it would seem a foolish thought. BBC reports:
Desperate heroin users in a few African cities have begun engaging in a practice that is so dangerous it is almost unthinkable: they deliberately inject themselves with another addict’s blood, researchers say, in an effort to share the high or stave off the pangs of withdrawal.
The practice, called flashblood or sometimes flushblood, is not common, but has been reported in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, on the island of Zanzibar and in Mombasa, Kenya.
It puts users at the highest possible risk of contracting AIDS and hepatitis. While most AIDS transmission in Africa is by heterosexual sex, the use of heroin is growing in some cities, and experts are warning that flashblood — along with syringe-sharing and other dangerous habits — could fuel a new wave of AIDS infections.
“Injecting yourself with fresh blood is a crazy practice — it’s the most effective way of infecting yourself with H.I.V.,” said Dr. Nora D. Volkow, director of the National Institute on Drug Abuse, which supports the researchers who discovered the practice. “Even though the number who do it is a relatively small group, they are vectors for H.I.V. because they support themselves by sex work.”
Sheryl A. McCurdy, a professor of public health at the University of Texas in Houston, first described the practice five years ago in a brief letter to The British Medical Journal and recently published a study of it in the journal Addiction.
“I don’t really know how widespread it is,” said Dr. McCurdy who is contacting other researchers working with addicts to get them to survey their subjects about it. “There’s pretty circular movement in East Africa, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s in other cities.”
Increasing use of heroin in parts of Africa has the potential to magnify the AIDS epidemic.
In most East African countries like Tanzania and Kenya, only 3 to 8 percent of adults are infected with the AIDS virus, far fewer than in southern Africa, where the rates reach 15 to 25 percent.
But among those who inject heroin, the rates are far higher. In Tanzania, about 42 percent of addicts are infected. The rate is even higher — 64 percent — among female addicts, Dr. McCurdy said, and since most support themselves through prostitution, they are in two high-risk groups, and their customers are at risk of catching the disease.
Most of the addicts she has interviewed who practice flashblood, Dr. McCurdy said, are women. For them, sharing blood is more of an act of kindness than an attempt to get high: a woman who has made enough money to buy a sachet of heroin will share blood to help a friend avoid withdrawal. The friend is often a fellow sex worker who has become too old or sick to find customers.
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