Supporting and Maintaining Natural Helper Models for Needle Exchange in Atlantic Canada: Building a Pan-Atlantic Collaborative
The sharing of needles by injection drug users (IDUs) has long been recognized as one of the primary means through which HIV/AIDS is transmitted in the Canadian context. While needle exchanges have proven beneficial for long-term users, new users remain at highest risk of getting HIV/AIDs before they access such services. Large groups of volunteers, termed 'natural helpers', have formed across the Atlantic Provinces in an effort to reach as many users as possible. Because these natural helpers are current/previous IDUs or their family/friends are IDUs, they are most likely to be available in the early stages of injecting and are best positioned to effect change in IDU communities. While natural helpers are typically seen as simply providing supplies, their connections with health services tend to identify them as the 'go to' people for a lot of health-related problems. IDUs turn to natural helpers because they feel shunned by, or afraid to access, primary health care professionals. This project brings together natural helpers, needle exchange staff, and academic researchers to develop and look at the success of current ways of ensuring safer injection practices in the everyday culture of injection drug using and improve the flow of information between health-care professionals and IDUs.