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Clinic urges Congressional conferees to allow
local funding of D.C. needle exchange
[Note: Whitman-Walker Clinic sent the following letter to conference committee members for the DC Appropriations bill. The letter urges the conferees to support the Senate language, which allows local funding of DC's needle exchange program.]
1407 S Street, NW
Washington, DC 20009
September 30, 2004
The Honorable Rodney Frelinghuysen, Chairman
Subcommittee on the District of Columbia,
Committee on Appropriations
H-147, The Capitol
US House of Representatives
Washington DC 20515
Dear Chairman Frelinghuysen:
Congressional conferees will soon decide upon the final language of the FY 2005 District of Columbia Appropriation bill. Whitman-Walker Clinic, the largest HIV/AIDS service provider in the Washington D.C. metropolitan area, urges you not to support the inclusion of language in the bill that would restrict the District's ability to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, and other blood borne diseases, such as Hepatitis B and C. Therefore, we ask you to support the Senate version of the bill, which would allow the District to spend its own local funds on a needle exchange program.
Given the high rate of AIDS in our Nationís Capital, we would hope the Congress would do everything in its power to help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS in the District by allowing local funds on a scientifically proven prevention program.
Last year, it was reported that D.C. has the highest incidence of new AIDS cases of all large cities in the country. An estimated 1 in 20 adults in our city are estimated to be HIV positive. According to the D.C. Department of Health, more than 40 percent of D.C.ís AIDS cases are related to injection drug use.
There are currently over 150 known needle exchange programs in over 80 cities across 33 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia. Scientific studies have all concluded that they reduce HIV infections and do not increase drug use. In fact, in March 2000, the U.S. Surgeon General conducted a review of all scientific research and concluded:
After reviewing all of the research to date, the senior scientists of the Department and I have unanimously agreed that there is conclusive scientific evidence that syringe exchange programs, as part of a comprehensive HIV prevention strategy, are an effective public health intervention that reduces the transmission of HIV and does not encourage the use of illegal drugs.
The conclusions of this report were reiterated by Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who stated, "from a scientific standpoint...it does prevent the spread of HIV infection and does not promote drug use," and "we should seriously, definitely implement needle exchange programs."
New York City Republican Mayor Michael Bloomberg in March 2003 said,
These programs have been operating in New York City for over ten years. The sky has not fallen. Drug use and drug-related crime have not gone up. In fact, they've gone down. And HIV infections among injection drug users, their spouses and their children have also gone down. A 2002 study by the State Department of Health evaluated 13 syringe exchange programs, nine of which are in New York City, and found that these programs are responsible for at least a 50% reduction, and possibly as much as a 75% reduction in the rate of new infection for injection drug users.
Similar success has been noted in the District. Between 1996, when our needle exchange program began, and 2001, the rate of new AIDS cases diagnosed among injection drug users in Washington dramatically dropped by 73 percent, while the District's overall AIDS case rate declined by only 52 percent.
While needle exchange programs continue to expand throughout the country, Congress has singled out the District by denying it the ability to spend any local funds on the program. The existing program in the District, Prevention Works!, must rely solely on private funds, and is struggling to survive.
A recent study published in the Journal of Urban Health found that approximately one half of the needle exchange programs in the U.S. receive local or state funds. Those programs receiving public funding were found to offer a greater number of exchanges, and additional services such as HIV counseling and testing, and are more likely to serve as part of a comprehensive HIV prevention system.
One of those publicly funded programs can be found in nearby Baltimore, which receives funding from the State of Maryland. In 1994, there were 602 new cases of HIV in Baltimore. About 61 percent of those cases were due to intravenous drug use, according to the Maryland AIDS Administration. In 2002, the number dropped to 195 new cases, with about 39 percent stemming from intravenous drug use.
We ask you to support the efforts of District leaders and health officials to address the AIDS crisis here at home. That must include allowing the District to spend its own local tax funds on a comprehensive HIV prevention program that includes a needle exchange program. Please support the Senate language as it relates to needle exchange.
As you consider this issue, if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to call me at (202) 797-3511.
A. Cornelius Baker
cc: Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton
Mayor Anthony Williams