amfAR Commends Latest Congressional Action Advancing AIDS Prevention
Contact: Cub Barrett, amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, (212) 806-1602, firstname.lastname@example.org
NEW YORK, July 24, 2009— amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, on Friday commended the U.S. House of Representatives for voting down an amendment that would have continued the ban on federal funding for syringe exchange programs (SEPs).
The amendment, proposed by U.S. Rep. Mark Souder (R-IN) during consideration of the FY2010 Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Bill (H.R. 3293), would have reinstated language that has banned federal funding for SEPs for more than 20 years.
But the bill also included 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.
“We commend the full House for recognizing that SEPs are essential, effective tools that work in our fight against HIV and hepatitis transmission,” said amfAR CEO Kevin Robert Frost. “And while the compromise in the bill isn’t perfect, we are hopeful that a final bill will reach President Obama’s desk without limitations.”
The ban was first removed on July 10 by the House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies. On July 17, as the full Appropriations Committee considered the bill, the committee voted down an amendment proposed by U.S. Rep. Chet Edwards (D-TX) that also would have reinstated the funding ban. The amendment dictating the 1,000-foot restriction was voted on during that committee hearing.
Frost said the 1,000-foot restriction, if it stands, could severely hamper efforts to implement successful SEPs, particularly in urban areas. Additionally, such restrictions may actually decrease public safety: SEPs, by design, help take used syringes off the streets and away from public 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.
“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,” Frost said. “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 House 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’m hopeful that the full 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.”
amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, is one of the world’s leading nonprofit organizations dedicated to the support of AIDS research, HIV prevention, treatment education, and the advocacy of sound AIDS-related public policy. Since 1985, amfAR has invested nearly $290 million in its programs and has awarded grants to more than 2,000 research teams worldwide.