July 10, 2009
Washington, DC -- The National AIDS Fund (NAF) praised the decision by a House subcommittee to remove language from an appropriations bill that for the past twenty years has banned the use of federal funds for syringe exchange programs (SEPs).
Since 1988, the U.S. government has prevented local and state public health authorities from using federal funds for SEPs, which studies have shown to be effective in reducing HIV infection rates among injection drug users (IDUs). On Friday, the House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies decided to remove the language that has blocked the funding.
"With Friday's decision, the full Congress now has the opportunity to base health policy on science-based evidence that has clearly illustrated that syringe exchange programs are effective in reducing HIV incidence and do not promote drug use," said Michael Rhein, Director of Programs at NAF. "The National AIDS Fund has been a longtime supporter of syringe exchange as a means to prevent the transmission of HIV and other bloodborne diseases."
NAF is a founding partner of the Syringe Access Fund, a national grant-making collaboration of private funders, created in 2004. Beginning in 2009, the National AIDS Fund will administer the Syringe Access Fund, which has granted over $6 million in funds to support access to sterile syringes.
U.S. Rep. David Obey (D-WI), chairman of the subcommittee and also chairman of the Appropriations Committee, said, "Scientific studies have documented that needle exchange programs, when implemented as part of a comprehensive prevention strategy, are an effective public health intervention for reducing AIDS/HIV infections and do not promote drug use. The judgment we make is that it is time to lift this ban and let State and local jurisdictions determine if they want to pursue this approach."
"There have been numerous government-sponsored reviews of the research on syringe exchange. Those studies concluded that syringe availability programs 'are an effective public health intervention that reduces the transmission of HIV and Hepatitis C and does not encourage the use of illegal drugs,'" says the National AIDS Fund's President & CEO, Kandy Ferree. "In fact, syringe access programs are often the gateway for getting hard-to-reach individuals into HIV testing and treatment services."
IDUs represent 20% of the more than 1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S. and the majority of the 3.2 million Americans living with hepatitis C infection. Injection drug use accounts for over 14%, according to the Centers for Disease Control, of the 56,000 new HIV infections in the U.S. every year -- or nearly 9,000 people.