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Alcohol: the forgotten drug in HIV/AIDS

In a comment in The Lancet, August 7, three researchers point out that alcohol has long been recognised as an important contributor to illness and injury, accounting for 4% of the global burden of disease. Yet alcohol remains conspicuously absent from the larger field of research and programming in HIV and substance use.

Perhaps because of its very ubiquity, alcohol use remains an easily overlooked backdrop of HIV epidemics worldwide, claims Katherine Fritz, Neo Morojele and Seth Kalichman.

They point out that patterns of hazardous alcohol consumption prevail in countries with the most severe HIV epidemics, notably eastern and southern Africa. Hazardous drinking patterns also dominate in the concentrated epidemics of eastern Europe and Asia, where alcohol use by injecting drug users and other marginalised groups might be an additional barrier to effective efforts to prevent HIV infection.

The three researcher representing International Center for Research on Women (USA), South Africa Medical Research Council and University of Connecticut (USA) say hazardous alcohol use is often assumed mainly to affect men, but women are harmed in large numbers by alcohol use—either their own or that of their partner. [...] More research, by gender and alcohol researchers jointly, is needed to determine methods of integrating gender into programmes that are focused on reducing alcohol-related sexual-risk behaviour, and might offer valuable lessons for the wider field of HIV and substance-use research.