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Using standardized methods for research on HIV and injecting drug use in developing/transitional countries: case study from the WHO Drug Injection Study Phase II

Don C Des Jarlais1*, Theresa E Perlis1, Gerry V Stimson2, Vladimir Poznyak3 and the WHO Phase II Drug Injection Collaborative Study Group

Author Affiliations

1 Baron Edmond de Rothschild Chemical Dependency Institute, Beth Israel Medical Center, 160 Water Street, 24th Floor, New York NY 10038, United States. Also at The Center for Drug Use and HIV Research, National Development and Research Institutes Inc., New York, NY 10010, USA

2 Executive Director, International Harm Reduction Association. Also at the Centre for Research on Drugs and Health Behaviour, Imperial College of Medicine, St Dunstan's Road, London W6 8RP, UK

3 World Health Organization, Management of Substance Dependence, CH-1211 Geneva 27, Switzerland

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BMC Public Health 2006, 6:54  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-6-54

Published: 2 March 2006



Successful cross-national research requires methods that are both standardized across sites and adaptable to local conditions. We report on the development and implementation of the methodology underlying the survey component of the WHO Drug Injection Study Phase II – a multi-site study of risk behavior and HIV seroprevalence among Injecting Drug Users (IDUs).


Standardized operational guidelines were developed by the Survey Coordinating Center in collaboration with the WHO Project Officer and participating site Investigators. Throughout the duration of the study, survey implementation at the local level was monitored by the Coordinating Center. Surveys were conducted in 12 different cities. Prior rapid assessment conducted in 10 cities provided insight into local context and guided survey implementation. Where possible, subjects were recruited both from drug abuse treatment centers and via street outreach. While emphasis was on IDUs, non-injectors were also recruited in cities with substantial non-injecting use of injectable drugs. A structured interview and HIV counseling/testing were administered.


Over 5,000 subjects were recruited. Subjects were recruited from both drug treatment and street outreach in 10 cities. Non-injectors were recruited in nine cities. Prior rapid assessment identified suitable recruitment areas, reduced drug users' distrust of survey staff, and revealed site-specific risk behaviors. Centralized survey coordination facilitated local questionnaire modification within a core structure, standardized data collection protocols, uniform database structure, and cross-site analyses. Major site-specific problems included: questionnaire translation difficulties; locating affordable HIV-testing facilities; recruitment from drug treatment due to limited/selective treatment infrastructure; access to specific sub-groups of drug users in the community, particularly females or higher income groups; security problems for users and interviewers, hostility from local drug dealers; and interference by local service providers.


Rapid assessment proved invaluable in paving the way for the survey. Central coordination of data collection is crucial. While fully standardized methods may be a research ideal, local circumstances may require substantial adaptation of the methods to achieve meaningful local representation. Allowance for understanding of local context may increase rather than decrease the generalizability of the data.