The street drug crystal methamhpetamine, known as tik in South Africa, increases the chance of men who have sex with men to contract HIV by 400%, according to a US study.
But according to Hetta Gouse, a neuropsychologist in the psychiatry and mental health department at the University of Cape Town (UCT), the impact of tik addiction on HIV infections in South Africa is likely to extend far beyond this group.
“While men who have sex with men are the main consumers of the substance in America, in South Africa it is also used in high numbers by heterosexual men and women. The figures are the highest in the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal.”
Gouse is conducting a study on the rape of HIV infections among tik users in the Western Cape.
“Research has shown that tik users take significantly higher sexual risks, which heightens the spread of HIV,” she said.
Over the past decade there has been a drastic increase in tik abuse in the Western Cape: whereas only 0.3% of Cape Town patients admitted to rehabilitation centres reported tik as a substance of abuse in 2002, it increased to 49% in 2007, according to a Medical Research Council study.