Journal Article

‘Women at risk’: The health and social vulnerabilities of the regular female partners of men who inject drugs in Delhi, India

Needle and syringe sharing is common among people who inject drugs and so is unprotected sex, which consequently puts their sex partners at risk of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) including HIV and other blood-borne infections, like hepatitis. We undertook a nested study with the regular female partners of men who inject drugs participating in a longitudinal HIV incidence study in Delhi, India. In-depth interviews were conducted with female partners of 32 men. The interviews aimed to gather focused and contextual knowledge of determinants of safe sex and reproductive health needs of these women. Information obtained through interviews was triangulated and linked to the baseline behavioural data of their partner (index men who injected drugs). The study findings illustrate that women in monogamous relationships have a low perception of STI- and HIV-related risk. Additionally, lack of awareness about hepatitis B and C is a cause of concern. Findings also suggest impact of male drug use on the fertility of the female partner. It is critical to empower regular female partners to build their self-risk assessment skills and self-efficacy to negotiate condom use. Future work must explore the role of drug abuse among men who inject drugs in predicting fertility and reproductive morbidity among their female partners.