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AIDS Action encourages allowing medicine, science to lead health policy

'Syringe exchange programs can and do save lives,' Sharp says

August 20, 1997

Syringe exchange programs are a vital component of a comprehensive HIV prevention strategy, which includes drug treatment and drug prevention programs. After 16 years of working as a physician on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic, I have learned a great deal about the opportunities and challenges presented by the AIDS epidemic. What I have learned is that we must let the science lead HIV policy. The science is clear as it relates to the effectiveness of syringe exchange programs in reducing rates of HIV transmission. A report to Congress issued by the Department of Health and Human Services earlier this year outlined the substantive body of research literature which confirms the impact of syringe exchange programs in reducing HIV transmission among injection drug users, their sexual partners, and their children. As a clinician, I also know the value of syringe exchange programs as a vehicle to link individuals with health care services.

The demographics of the AIDS epidemic in 1997 are also clear, and nowhere more dramatically so than in New York City where I provide health care to people living with HIV and AIDS. Women living with HIV, many of who have young children, are more and more frequently my patients. The majority of women and other Latino and African-American patients in my clinic are HIV-infected because of injection drug use. An imperative of good medicine is good prevention, based on strong public health principles. As a physician, I feel obligated to treat my patients with all of the tools that medicine has to offer. But I am also compelled to lend my support to measures that prevent other women like my patients, and their husbands, lovers, brothers, sons and daughters-from ever needing my care. Syringe exchange programs can and do save lives.

In the face of overwhelming scientific evidence and organizational endorsements of syringe exchange programs from the American Medical Association, the American Bar Association, the National Conference of Mayors, the American Public Health Association and others, the course for national and local policy is clear. Local communities with high rates of HIV infection related to injection drug use should be encouraged to implement these life-saving prevention programs in their communities, and federal funding should be made available to support those choices.

It is telling that only a group representing the religious political extreme would fly in the face of science and public health and declare syringe exchange programs wrong for America. The track record of this organization, characterized by consistent hostility toward people living with HIV/AIDS, should not be forgotten in this current context. Syringe exchange programs are in a fundamental way about preserving and protecting families in the face of this relentless epidemic. The science is clear. If we let science, and not fear, lead us, policies which support syringe exchange programs and the wide availability of drug treatment must be implemented at every level of government.

For information, contact:
Daniel Zingale, (202) 986-1300, Ext. 3011

# # #

AIDS Action is the nation's leading AIDS advocacy organization, representing all Americans affected by HIV and AIDS and over 2,000 community-based organizations that serve them.

AIDS Action
1875 Connecticut Avenue NW
Washington DC 20009
202-986-1345 (fax)

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This article was provided by AIDS Action Council.
See Also
Ask Our Expert, David Fawcett, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., About Substance Use and HIV
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