October 21, 2009
New York, NY -- As of 2008, there were at least 77 countries worldwide that had introduced syringe exchange programs (SEPs) to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS, according to a report released today by Gay Men's Health Crisis (GMHC). The report repeatedly cites evidence that SEPs are effective at reducing the rates of HIV infection among intravenous/injection drugs users (IDUs).
The report cites evidence of SEP successes internationally. In India SEPs had contributed to a reduction in HIV seroprevalence among IDUs from 81% to 58% over a three-year period. Brazil reported a 62% reduction in HIV infections among IDUs due to syringe exchange. UNAIDS reports that HIV infection rates have fallen, in part as a result of harm reduction programs such as SEPs.
As the United States Congress considers repealing the ban on using federal funds to supports SEPs in the United States that has been in place since 1988, this report examines the global context for this effective HIV prevention intervention. In July, the House of Representatives took action on an appropriations bill that lifted the federal funds ban, yet added a restriction that SEPs receiving federal funds could not be within 1,000 feet of schools, parks, swimming pools, video arcades, or day care centers. For major metropolitan areas like New York City, this essentially maintains the prohibition of federal funds for SEPs.
"India, Brazil and other countries have had great success with syringe exchange," said Sean Cahill, Ph.D., Managing Director of Public Policy, Research & Community Health at GMHC. "We urge Congress to lift the debilitating ban on federal funding to support syringe exchange programs," added Cahill.
The newly released report highlighted five policy lessons from the review of global SEPs: (1) the importance of government sponsorship and regulatory oversight of community-organized SEPs; (2) how legal regimes can inhibit the success of SEPs in reducing HIV infection rates; (3) the ways in which successful SEPs interact flexibly with IDUs, such as by providing mobile services, syringe vending machines, or even drug rehabilitation services; (4) how countries can use SEPs to promote rehabilitation and reduce the incidence of drug use; and (5) the ways in which SEPs have thrived even in countries with strong social and religious mores opposing drug use.
GMHC thanks Davis Polk & Wardwell (Davis Polk) for their immensely gracious contributions in researching and writing this report. "We are proud to support GMHC and its continuing HIV prevention efforts by documenting the benefits of SEPs globally," said Hilary Dengel, attorney at Davis Polk and spokesperson of the report's authors.
"Syringe Exchange Programs Around the World: The Global Context" can be viewed here. This is the second policy paper on syringe exchange issued by GMHC this year. The first paper, "Syringe Exchange: An Effective Tool in the Fight Against HIV and Drug Abuse," can be viewed here.