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Renee Edgington and Matthew Francis

Spring 1999

The AIDS Community has lost two good friends. Renee Edgington and her husband, Matthew Francis, two artists who pioneered Los Angeles' needle exchange program to curb the spread of AIDS, have died. She was 40 and he was 35.

The couple died on a Sunday in a traffic accident while vacationing in South Africa, said Ferd Eggan, AIDS Coordinator for the City of Los Angeles.

Both Edgington, who taught art at USC, and Francis were sculptors and creators of installation art. As volunteers, Edgington and Francis started Clean Needles Now in 1992.

Edgington served as coordinator, and she and Francis worked with others to set up free weekly needle exchanges on street corners throughout the city. They cited research by Yale University showing that such a needle exchange program could reduce new HIV infections by one-third in less than a year, and by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showing that more than one-third of reported AIDS cases in the United States result from intravenous drug users sharing contaminated needles.

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"We're not here to end drug abuse on the streets. That is beyond us," Edgington told the Times in 1993 as she distributed brown bags of clean needles at Wilshire Boulevard and Burlington Street. "What we're here for is to slow the spread of AIDS."

Edgington and two colleagues were booked by police and held for an hour in 1994 after Hollywood residents placed them under citizen's arrest for breaking a state law that prohibits needle exchanges.

"The facts are there are drugs in Hollywood," Edgington said at the time. "The services need to be as visible as the drugs."

The incident helped prompt Mayor Richard Riordan to declare a state of emergency and direct the city attorney and the Los Angeles Police Department to avoid arresting volunteers. Eggan and his office became involved and provided financial support to purchase clean needles and other equipment.

Eggan said Monday that he was unsure what will happen to the program without Edgington and Francis.

"They have been such important pioneers and have fought so hard," he said. "They leave a very big hole."


Budget Forbids Money for Needle Exchange

Washington Post: A ban on the use of federal and city funding for needle exchanges in the District of Columbia was included in the federal budget that was signed into law on Wednesday. The provision, authored by Rep. Todd Tiahrt (R-Kan.), also threatens to withdraw funding for any agency that exchanges needles in the city -- even if they do so strictly with private funds. In order to keep its government funding, the Whitman-Walker Clinic announced that its needle-exchange program has been transferred to a new corporation, called Prevention Works Inc., that has no legal connections to the clinic. Eleanor Norton Holmes (D-D.C.) said that Tiahrt's amendment is an infringement on the city's home rule. She also asserted that the needle-exchange provision "puts the District in a class by itself: the only jurisdiction that flies the American flag that can't prevent the AIDS epidemic from swallowing the city whole." Ron Lewis, head of the District's AIDS agency, also expressed disappointment over the measure, noting that needle exchanges work in preventing HIV.

Copyright 1998, Information Inc., Bethesda, MD




  
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This article was provided by Women Alive. It is a part of the publication Women Alive Newsletter.
 
See Also
Ask Our Expert, David Fawcett, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., About Substance Use and HIV
More on Needle Exchange Programs

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