US university study links drugs and tourism to HIV in the Caribbean

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Close up of syringe on Hiv - aids

NEW YORK, United States, Friday October 31, 2014, CMC – A new study released by a United states-based university finds that drugs and tourism combine to raise HIV risk in the Caribbean.

The research, headed by New York University (NYU), notes that the Caribbean has the second highest global HIV prevalence in the world outside of Sub-Saharan Africa, with HIV/AIDS as leading cause of death among people aged 20–59 years.

Particularly hard-hit are the Dominican Republic (DR) and Haiti, on the island of Hispaniola, which account for about 70 per cent of all people living with HIV in the Caribbean region.

But the study suggests that how the intersection of drugs and tourism as contributing factors to the region’s elevated HIV/AIDS risk hasn’t gotten enough attention.

“Caribbean studies have almost exclusively focused on drug transportation. The roles that drugs play in tourism areas, which may be fueling the Caribbean HIV/AIDS epidemic, seldom come up.”

The new study in Global Public Health seeks to address this gap by conducting in-depth interviews with 30 drug users in Sosúa, a major sex tourism destination of the Dominican Republic

According to NYU, the study’s results suggest three themes: Local demand shifts drug routes to tourism areas, drugs shape local economies, and drug use facilitates HIV risk behaviors in tourism areas.

“We know that the DR is located on a primary drug transportation route and is also the Caribbean country with the most tourist arrivals, receiving over 4.5 million visitors in 2012,” said Vincent Guilamo-Ramos, professor of social work and global public health and a co-director at NYU’s Center for Drug Use and HIV Research (CDUHR).

“Tourism areas represent distinct ecologies of risk often characterized by sex work, alcohol consumption, and population mixing between lower and higher risk groups,” he added.

The researchers sought to document drug use in tourism areas of the DR and its impact on HIV risk behaviors, potentially informing public health policies and programmatic efforts to address local drug use and improve HIV prevention efforts within tourism areas.

The study found that cocaine (86 per cent) and marijuana (83 per cent) were the most commonly used illegal drugs, with amphetamine use much less common (three per cent).

Additionally, the study finds that drugs have become linked to the tourism economy and are perceived to facilitate greater profitability for locals working in the area.

“As such, tourism environments provide opportunities for locals and tourists to engage in high-risk behaviors involving sex and drug use.”

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