July 20, 2009
New York, N.Y. -- amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, on Monday commended House Appropriations Chairman David Obey and the House Appropriations Committee for defeating an amendment to reinstate the ban on federal funding that had been removed in subcommittee.
On July 10, the House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies removed language that has blocked federal funding for SEPs since 1988.
On Friday the Appropriations Committee did approve an amendment that would dictate to local officials that federal funds cannot be used for SEPs that are within 1,000 feet of an educational institution, park, playground, or youth center, in addition to other public places.
"I think this language needs further work as we move through the process," Obey (D-WI) said.
The committee later voted down another amendment proposed by U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards (D-TX) that would have reinstated the funding ban outright.
"We commend Chairman Obey's leadership in advancing this bill while finding a way to include a new opportunity for federal funding of programs that we know are effective in combating HIV transmission," said amfAR CEO Kevin Robert Frost. "While the compromise language isn't perfect, we are hopeful that a final bill will reach President Obama's desk without limitations."
Frost said the 1,000-foot restriction, if it stands, could severely hamper efforts to implement successful SEPs, particularly in urban areas. But he said he is hopeful that the Senate's version of the bill would not put such restrictions on federally funded SEPs, and that the committee's amendment would be removed during conference between the two chambers.
"SEPs are an essential tool in our HIV and hepatitis prevention arsenal," Frost said. "If this country is serious about ending the AIDS epidemic, it's time to put more resources into these programs -- and to use those resources based on what is proven effective. With more flexibility to use federal funds, local governments and agencies will be better equipped to combat HIV transmission in their communities."
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) and their sexual partners, promoting public health and safety by taking syringes off the streets, and protecting law enforcement personnel from injuries.
Injection drug use accounts for up to 16% of the 56,000 new HIV infections in the U.S. every year -- or nearly 9,000 people. 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.
But those alarming rates could actually have been much higher, Frost said, noting a 2008 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study that concluded that the incidence of HIV among IDUs had decreased by 80% in the United States over a 20-year period -- in part due to locally and privately funded syringe exchange programs.
Today, an estimated 185 SEPs operate in 36 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico, but Frost said that many of these programs are failing to meet demand or provide other needed services for lack of resources.
During the past two decades, HIV/AIDS research and advocacy groups, including amfAR and numerous others, have repeatedly called for the removal of the federal ban. SEPs have also been endorsed by the World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the CDC Director Thomas Frieden, numerous law enforcement officials, and former Surgeons General C. Everett Koop and David Satcher, among many others.
"The appropriations bill, as it stands, still puts ideology before science by limiting how federal funds can be used for SEPs," Frost said. "But we have time to fix the legislation, and I trust the U.S. Congress will realize the importance of allowing local elected and public health officials to make their own decisions about how to address their HIV and hepatitis epidemics."