National Day of Action Planned for Access to Clean Syringes

AIDS activists around the country demand Congress lifts federal funding ban on syringe exchange (again).
AIDS activists around the country demand Congress lifts federal funding ban on syringe exchange (again).

Washington, D.C. -- Responding to rampant Congressional games that place politics over effective public health measures, Housing Works and activists from all over the country have organized events targeting Congressional leaders for re-instating the policy that bans health organizations from using federal dollars for syringe exchange programs.

"Our government should be embarrassed as this year's host of the International AIDS Conference to have sneaked this into an unrelated bill under the cloak of night last December" said Charles King, CEO of Housing Works, Inc. "The US cannot be any shining example to the rest of the world on how to end the AIDS epidemic when we're still fighting foolish policies that reject what we know works."

The We Can End AIDS Coalition member organizations (including Housing Works, Harm Reduction Coalition, VOCAL-NY, Health GAP, the National HIV Prevention Justice Alliance, HIPS, etc) will be organizing actions, rallies, and other events protesting the ban in Washington, DC, while there are also demonstrations happening in New York City, San Francisco, Denver, Honolulu, Boston, Philadelphia, Raleigh, and statewide events in Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, New Mexico, Ohio and Washington.

March 21 is the first of a series of actions leading up to the We Can End AIDS Mobilization for Economic Justice and Human Rights, which will take place at the International AIDS Conference, on July 24th, in Washington, DC. Live tweeting from around the country will be linked under the hashtag #321syringe.

In December, Congress reinstated the ban as part of a spending bill it passed to fund the federal government through fiscal year 2012, which ends September 30, 2012. The ban on federal funding for syringe exchange was originally adopted in 1989 but was finally lifted in 2009 by Congress. Without a discussion or a fight, the language was slipped into the spending bill by GOP Senators, and was not fought against.

An overwhelming consensus of research proves that providing clean syringes to injection drug users is a highly effective way to prevent the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C, and is credited with reducing the rate of new HIV infections among injection drug users by 80%. Additional research shows that syringe exchange programs do not increase the numbers of injection drug users, and reduces long term health care costs that occur with the medical needs of people with HIV and/or Hepatitis C.

But we're not out of the woods. The latest study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows that while overall new HIV infections through intravenous drug use have fallen by half over the last decade, one-third of IDUs say they share needles. Ramping up funding for syringe exchange programs makes more sense now than ever.

"We now know that we can actually end the AIDS pandemic, and syringe exchange is a part of what's needed for prevention," said Christine Campbell, Vice President of Advocacy and Organizing for Housing Works. "We expect our political leaders to set us on that path rather than sending us back."

The We Can End AIDS Coalition came together in June of 2011 to plan for a series of coordinated actions highlighting the easy ways politicians can set us on track to end the AIDS pandemic in the next 30 years. The coalition is organizing a massive mobilization in Washington, DC on July 24th, the site of the International AIDS Conference.

The latest Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) studies of syringe exchange programs in the US:

HIV Infection and HIV-Associated Behaviors Among Injecting Drug Users -- 20 Cities, United States, 2009

Syringe Exchange Programs -- United States, 2008

Find out more about the We Can End AIDS Coalition.