Written by Neha Wadekar, M.S. in Journalism.

1 Jul 2016

NAIROBI, July 19 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Rashid Hassan Mohammed began using drugs when he was 15, after fleeing an abusive home in the Kenyan coastal city of Mombasa and joining a street gang that robbed and stole to buy heroin.

He was diagnosed with HIV in 2014 and realised that he needed to give up drugs after years of sharing needles with fellow addicts.

"I didn't think that when you inject, or share the same injection with your friend, it may cause HIV," said Mohammed, 34, who has been receiving methadone treatment for a year to wean his body off heroin.

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"I thought it was only sex."

The number of Kenyans injecting heroin has surged in recent years as the East African nation has become a major transit route for international drug cartels moving heroin from Afghanistan to Europe, experts say.

Narcotics have spilled on to the local market, where people are largely unaware that injecting drugs can lead to HIV infection, sparking concerns that Kenya's success in tackling HIV could be reversed.

"The numbers (of users) are increasing both along the coast and in Nairobi and there is evidence that it is also spreading out to places like Kisumu," said Calleb Angira, director of the Nairobi Outreach Services Trust (NOSET), who has worked with addicts for almost 30 years.

"That is because the interventions we have are not enough," said Angira, who set up NOSET in 2005 to offer HIV prevention and treatment services to drug users in Ngara, an estate outside Nairobi's city centre.

Over the past 20 years, Kenya has slashed its HIV prevalence rate to 6 percent today from 11 percent in 1996 through campaigns to encourage safer sex between heterosexual couples and improved access to antiretroviral drugs, according to the United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

But little has been done in Kenya to reduce the risk to injecting drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men, who together make up more than 30 percent of new infections, government data shows.

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