Research consistently shows that policing practices, such as confiscating or breaking needles, are key factors in the HIV epidemic among persons who inject drugs. Police officers themselves are also at risk of acquiring HIV or viral hepatitis if they experience needle-stick injuries on the job — a significant source of anxiety and staff turn-over.
A binational team from the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine and the U.S.-Mexico Border Health Commission, Mexico Section has launched a new research project aimed at promoting prevention of HIV and other blood-borne infections. The effort is led by Steffanie Strathdee, PhD, professor and director of the UC San Diego Global Health Initiative, Leo Beletsky, JD, MPH, associate professor, and Gudelia Rangel, PhD, deputy general director for migrant health and executive secretary of the Mexico Section of the Mexico-United States Border Health Commission, in partnership with the Tijuana Police Department and Police Academy. The binational team will offer and evaluate Proyecto ESCUDO (Project SHIELD), a police education program designed to align law enforcement and HIV prevention in Tijuana.
“Our unprecedented partnership with the Tijuana police department enables us to evaluate ESCUDO as a binational effort,” said Strathdee, who is also associate dean of global health sciences and chief of the Division of Global Public Health at UC San Diego’s Department of Medicine.
“Research by our team and others shows that police practices are fueling HIV risks among drug users,” noted Rangel. “This project serves a dual purpose by aiming to reduce the risk of blood-borne infections among the police and people who inject drugs in the community.”
Proyecto ESCUDO will monitor trends in occupational needle-sticks and the attitudes, behaviors and safety precautions taken by Tijuana police. ESCUDO’s impact on people who inject drugs will be externally validated through a parallel study of Tijuana drug injectors.
“We are very excited by this unique partnership,” said Secretario Alejandro Lares, Tijuana’s chief of police. “Proyecto ESCUDO will be the first study of its kind in the world.”
“These findings are expected to inform future international efforts to bring police education programs to scale in the growing number of countries where policing is a documented driver of HIV infection,” said Beletsky, an associate professor of law and public health at UC San Diego and at Northeastern University.
Funding support for this project comes from the UC San Diego Center for AIDS Research, Open Society Foundations and National Institute on Drug Abuse (grant R01DA039073).