The number of new HIV cases dropped last year, according to figures released yesterday by the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
The number of new cases had increased at an alarming rate before this year because of the increase in intravenous drug use, the CDC said.
Last year 2,942 new cases of HIV were reported, down from 3,399 in 2005, which was the year with the highest number of new cases, the CDC said.
However, the number of infections is still high compared with 2003 and earlier, it added.
Before 2004, HIV cases reported in Taiwan per year had never exceeded 1,000.
According to the CDC, there are currently 13,103 confirmed cases of HIV in the nation.
CDC Deputy Director Shih Wen-yi (施文儀) said he was glad the center's programs to fight the spread of HIV, including a needle exchange program, had had some effect.
"Unlike the spread of HIV through sexual contact, the spread of HIV through drug use has been explosive," Shih said at a press conference yesterday. "Frankly, if this program to fight the spread of HIV had not worked, we would have been at our wits' end."
CDC figures indicate that the nation experienced almost no drug-related HIV infections up to 2002.
By 2005, however, there were 2,463 new cases of HIV attributed to infections from needle sharing.
The CDC's pilot clean needle program began in late 2005. Since then the program has grown to include 730 distribution points in 23 cities and towns. Last year, the percentage of infections attributed to needle sharing fell to 60 percent from 72 percent in 2005.
The Tainan County Government is discussing making clean needles more easily available at convenience store chains such as 7-Eleven and Hi-Life.
"If this plan goes through, it would be a world-first," Shih said, adding that the high level of acceptance of the need to provide clean needles to addicts was a "sign of civilization."
Apart from the CDC's needle exchange program and publicity campaigns, the center also runs a methadone program that is still in its early stages. The CDC said that almost 2,000 addicts had undergone methadone treatment so far at 19 clinics. Methadone prevents many serious withdrawal symptoms caused while ending heroin use.
The CDC hopes to expand its methadone program to 4,000 addicts by the end of the year and 50,000 addicts within three years.
The Department of Health is working with the Justice Department to provide methadone to addicts before they leave prison.
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