Leo Beletsky3.25.15  Assistant Professor of Law and Health Science Leo Beletsky is partnering with colleagues from the University of California San Diego and El Colegio de la Frontera Norte (COLEF) in Mexico to promote prevention of HIV and other blood-borne infections. The bi-national research team will work closely with the Tijuana Police Department and Police Academy to implement an innovative police education program designed to align law enforcement and HIV prevention in Tijuana. Dubbed "Proyecto ESCUDO" (Project SHIELD), this will be the first major effort to evaluate such an intervention.

Research from around the globe consistently shows that policing practices, such as confiscating needles and interference with public health outreach efforts, are key drivers of HIV and hepatitis risk among people who inject drugs.  Police themselves are also at risk of acquiring disease if they get stuck with needles on the job—a source of extreme anxiety and staff turn-over. This occupational risk is compounded when police improperly discard or break needles.  Beletsky's research in domestic and international settings helped build the foundation for HIV interventions targeting the police. 

"To tackle complex problems like drug abuse and epidemics in today’s interconnected world, we have to work across sectors and across borders. Given the rising rates of addiction, infectious disease, and criminal justice on both sides of the Border, the stakes for this project are particularly high. Our study will generate data that can inform 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, who previously served on the faculty of the Division of Global Public Health at UCSD’s School of Medicine, where he retains an adjunct appointment.

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. Pilot work for this project was supported by the UCSD Center for AIDS Research and Open Society Foundations. Proyecto ESCUDO is supported by a grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse.    

“These findings are expected to inform 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.

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