Reinstatement of Federal Syringe Exchange Ban Shameful, Says AIDS United

WASHINGTON, D.C. – December 16, 2011 – AIDS United is outraged and disappointed at Congress’ reinstatement of the ban on federal funding for syringe exchange programs, which was lifted in 2009. The ban is included the Labor Health and Human Services appropriations bill included in the final FY 2012 appropriations package.   

“Congress’s shameful act of reinstating the ban on federal funding for syringe exchange programs is a step backward in our fight to end the HIV epidemic in this country,” said Mark Ishaug, AIDS United President and CEO.  “How are we to create an AIDS-free generation if we can’t use one of the most important tools in our toolbox?”

Numerous scientific studies, including eight federally-funded research studies, have shown that, when implemented as part of a comprehensive HIV/AIDS prevention strategy, syringe exchange programs are an effective public health tool in preventing HIV and do not increase illicit drug use.  In fact, the Journal of the American Medical Association credits syringe exchange programs with helping to lower HIV incidence by 80 percent among people who inject drugs.

Syringe exchange programs have proven to be one of the most effective HIV prevention interventions available.  The cost to avert one infection through syringe exchange services is significantly less than treating a person living with HIV over a lifetime. 

“What is most disturbing is that the reinstatement of the federal ban directly undermines and contradicts the National HIV/AIDS Strategy released by President Obama only last year,” said Ronald Johnson, AIDS United Vice President of Policy and Advocacy.  “Syringe exchange is specifically mentioned in the Strategy as key evidence-based approach to expanding targeted efforts to prevent HIV infection.”

AIDS United deployed intense federal advocacy efforts and community mobilization around this issue when it was learned late last week that the federal ban reinstatement was a part of the proposed appropriations bill.  AIDS United worked with its national partners and grantees around the country to generate thousands of calls and emails to Members of Congress and the White House.

For more than 20 years, AIDS United has supported syringe exchange programs through its Community Partnership program, filling the gap in funding left by the original ban on the use of federal funds for those programs.  In recent years, AIDS United has been a partner of The Syringe Access Fund, a funding partnership to directly support community-based organizations across America to provide clean syringes to thousands, and to advocate and organize around policy related to syringe access.  

“Today is a dark day for science, public health and those at risk for HIV in our country,” said Ishaug.  “And though this loss is a frustrating setback in our fight, AIDS United, along with our national, regional and community partners, will not give up.  We will continue to hold our lawmakers accountable for ending AIDS in America, and will work tirelessly to have this ban lifted once again.”