The syndemic of HIV, HIV-related risk and multiple co-morbidities among women who use drugs in Malaysia: Important targets for intervention

Kelsey B. Loeliger, Ruthanne Marcus, Jeffrey A. Wickersham, Veena Pillai, Adeeba Kamarulzaman, Frederick L. Altice

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9 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Substance use and HIV are syndemic public health problems in Malaysia. Harm reduction efforts to reduce HIV transmission have primarily focused on men with substance use disorders. Objectives: To explore HIV risk behaviors, substance use, and social factors associated with poor health outcomes among women who use drugs in Malaysia. Methods: A cross-sectional survey of 103 drug-using women in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia were recruited to assess their medical, psychiatric and social comorbidity as well as their engagement in nationally recommended HIV testing and monitoring activities. Results: One-third reported having ever injected drugs, with most (68.2%) having recently shared injection paraphernalia. Sex work (44.7%) and infrequent condom use (42.4%) were common as was underlying psychiatric illness and physical and sexual violence during childhood and adulthood. Most women (62.1%) had unstable living situations and suffered from an unmet need for social support and health services. HIV prevalence was high (20%) with only two thirds of women eligible for antiretroviral therapy having received it. Suboptimal HIV testing and/or monitoring was positively associated with interpersonal violence (AOR 2.73; 95% CI 1.04-7.14) and negatively associated with drug injection (AOR 0.28; 95% CI 0.10-0.77). Conclusions/Importance: Women who use drugs in Malaysia demonstrate considerable medical, psychiatric and social co-morbidity, which negatively contributes to optimal and crucial engagement in HIV treatment-as-prevention strategies. Mental health and social support may be key targets for future public health interventions aimed at drug-using women in Malaysia.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-39
Number of pages9
JournalAddictive Behaviors
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • HIV
  • Malaysia
  • Sex work
  • Substance abuse
  • Violence
  • Women

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