Award-winning ‘Aristotle’ programme helps slash spread of HIV/AIDs among addicts

A Greek epidemiology paper on the “Aristotle Programme” studying the spread of HIV among injecting drug addicts has been selected for the Population-based and Epidemiology Research prize awarded by the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (EMCDDA).

The “Aristotle Programme” investigated the epidemiological, behavioural and virological features of an HIV outbreak in people who inject drugs in Athens, Greece and then proceeded to design a “large-scale rapid response” that helped reduce the number of new infections by 78 pct, preventing an estimated 2,000 new cases of the disease.

The paper ‘Design and baseline findings of a large-scale rapid response to an HIV outbreak in people who inject drugs in Athens, Greece: the ARISTOTLE programme’ (2015), published in ‘Addiction’ with Dr. Angelos Hatzakis MD, PhD as primary author, was chosen among 50 papers submitted for consideration in the same category.

The “Aristotle” programme was implemented over two years in 2012-2013 by the Athens University Medical School, in response to a 2011 outbreak of HIV/AIDS among they city’s intravenous drug users. It was conducted in collaboration with the OKANA drug rehabilitation agency, the Hellenic Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (HCDCP) and the NGOs Praksis and Thetiki Foni.

Under the programme, drug users that were identified as HIV positive were referred to the OKANA centres and given priority access to rehab and opioid substitution programmes, which took on an additional 1,100 users. The programme aso distributed 565,000 clean syringes and needles. Based on the results, among the 3,320 intravenous drug users identified by the ‘Aristotle’ programme, HIV prevalence remained steady at 16 pct.

The programme identified the top risk factors for intravenous drug users as a high frequency of injecting drugs, homelessness in men, a history of past imprisonment and the number of sexual partners in women.

As a result of the programme, the number of new infections was reduced by 78 pct, while there was a reduction of high-risk behaviours and significantly higher number of intravenous users were linked up with drug substitution programmes and antiretroviral therapy.

The ‘Aristotle’ programme and the activities of OKANA and the HCDCP in Athens from 2011-2013 are estimated to have saved 95 million euros over five years, from the use of antiretroviral treatments, or 14 times the cost of the health ministry’s actions to tackle the disease.

The award was presented to Dr Hatzakis in Lisbon on November 10.