U.S. Spent $2 Million on Study Promoting Condom Use Among Intravenous Drug Users in Kazakhstan

By Adam Cassandra | June 21, 2010 | 6:01 PM EDT

Christmas in Astana, Kazakhstan. (Photo courtesy of Government of Kazakhstan/Embassy Web site)

(CNSNews.com) – The National Institutes of Health has spent over $2 million on a study that, among other things, seeks to incease condom use among intravenous drug users in Kazakhstan.
Dr. Nabila El-Bassel, a Columbia University professor in the School of Social Work, proposed the study to “rigorously test the efficacy of an innovative, couples-based HIV/STI risk reduction intervention (CHSR) to decrease new cases of HIV and Hepatitis C (HCV) and incidence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), as well as to reduce unsafe injection practices and increase condom use among injecting drug users (IDUs) and their heterosexual, intimate partners in Shu, Kazakhstan.”

Dr. El-Bassel received funding for the study from the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), which is part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

The NIDA funded the study in the amounts of $676,058 in 2008, $670,914 in 2009, and $670,212 in 2010, totaling $2,017,184 in federal funds derived from U.S. taxpayers.

According to the study’s description, “Central Asia has experienced one of the fastest growing HIV/AIDS epidemics due to a sharp increase in injection drug use,” and, “There is a race to develop and implement effective HIV preventive interventions for IDUs and their sexual partners to stem the spread of HIV, HCV and other STIs in Shu and other Central Asian towns along drug trafficking routes.”

According to the Central Intelligence Agency profile on Kazakhstan, the country is a  “transit point for Southwest Asian narcotics bound for Russia and the rest of Europe,” and a “significant consumer of opiates.”

Shu, Kazakhstan “is located along a major drug trafficking route” says the NIH description of the grant.

Eligible participants in the study must have at least one partner report “unsafe injection and unprotected sexual intercourse in the past 30 days.”

The 2010 continuation of the study expands upon a pilot study of 40 injecting drug users and their partners to 400 IDUs and their partners.  The study divides participants into two groups receiving a “5-session couples-based HIV/STI risk reduction intervention or a 5-session couples-based wellness promotion intervention, which will serve as a comparison condition,” with assessments at 3-month, 6-month, and 12-month intervals.

Evaluation of needle sharing and condom use are self-reported by the participants.  Dr. El-Bassel’s pilot study found that participants in the risk reduction intervention reported “significantly fewer unsafe injection behaviors and greater condom use” compared to participants in the wellness promotion intervention.

CNSNews.com attempted to receive comment from Dr. El-Bassel, currently in Kazakhstan, about whether the use of American taxpayer money for this study is appropriate, but did not receive a response by the time of publication.