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U.S. News

Obama Disappoints AIDS Activists

May 19, 2009

President Obama has called for repealing a ban on federal funding for needle-exchange programs (NEPs), and so AIDS advocates were stunned to find his 2009-10 budget proposal would continue the prohibition.

"We hoped that the president would seize the first opportunity for lifting federal restrictions on this life-saving prevention strategy," said Paolo Barahona of Physicians for Human Rights. "Denying people at risk for HIV a proven prevention intervention is a denial of their basic human rights."

"Without federal funding, we're missing people we could reach," said Laura Thomas, head of the Drug Policy Alliance office in San Francisco. "It's ridiculous that at this point in the epidemic we're not looking to science in determining what we're funding," said Thomas, who also volunteers at a local NEP.

"I think the Obama administration wants to repeal the syringe ban," said Bill Piper, national affairs director of the Drug Policy Alliance. He noted Obama's drug policy director, Gil Kerlikowske, supported needle exchange during his confirmation hearing and prevented police interference in NEPs in Seattle as that city's police chief. Obama's Food and Drug Administration commissioner, Dr. Margaret Hamburg, sponsored New York City's first NEP as its health commissioner in the early 1990s. The administration has shown "moral leadership on the issue, but they need to show political leadership," Kerlikowske said.

Obama "is looking forward to working with Congress and the American people to build support for this change, and his administration is committed to moving forward to address the federal ban on syringe exchange programs as a part of the national HIV/AIDS strategy," said Jeffrey Crowley, Obama's national AIDS policy director. However, Crowley did not say why the budget would continue the ban.

San Francisco spends $900,000 annually on NEPs, which are operated by the San Francisco AIDS Foundation and other contractors, said Dr. Grant Colfax, the city's HIV prevention director. NEPs have "prevented a huge HIV epidemic in the injection-drug-using population" and possibly HIV's spread to their partners, he said.

Back to other news for May 2009

Adapted from:
San Francisco Chronicle
05.11.2009; Bob Egelko

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
Ask Our Expert, David Fawcett, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., About Substance Use and HIV
Needle Exchange & HIV/AIDS in the U.S.