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For Immediate Release

Obama Administration Shows Disappointing Inaction on Syringe Exchange Funding

Stronger Commitment Needed for Global Health Funding, Including Global AIDS Efforts

Cambridge, Mass - 05/07/2009

(Cambridge, MA)—Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is extremely disappointed that President Obama's FY2010 budget proposal retains the decades-old ban on federal funding for syringe exchange services despite the White House's support for evidence-based HIV prevention strategies and a reversal of the misguided federal ban.

"Given President Obama's strong support for syringe exchange programs and the Administration's commitment to invigorating the federal response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, we hoped that the President would seize the first opportunity for lifting federal restrictions on this lifesaving prevention strategy," said Paola Barahona, MPH, Senior Global Health Policy Advocate. "Denying people at risk for HIV a proven prevention intervention is a denial of their basic human rights. We will continue working with the Administration and Congress to remove the obstacles to the implementation of syringe exchange programs in communities devastated by HIV."

President Obama has repeatedly expressed his support for lifting the ban, pledging during the campaign, the transition, and after the Inauguration to take action on this issue. Most recently, the White House website stated: "The President also supports lifting the federal ban on needle exchange, which could dramatically reduce rates of [HIV] infection among drug users."

Moving forward, PHR urges President Obama to ask Congress for appropriations legislation free of syringe exchange restrictions, endorse Rep. Jose Serrano's Community AIDS and Hepatitis Prevention Act (H.R. 179), and direct the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of State to remove all non-legislative barriers preventing federal funding for syringe exchange as part of domestic and global U.S. programs.

Global health programs must also have the resources needed to meet the global health components of the Millennium Development Goals. The levels outlined in the president's budget for FY'10 fall short of what is required.

"Key to the greater investment in global health is the scale up of funding for the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)," said Pat Daoust, MSN, RN, Director of PHR's Health Action AIDS Campaign. Last year, Congress authorized $48 billion for PEPFAR over five years with the goals of treating at least 3 million people with HIV, preventing 12 million new infections, caring for 12 million people, including 5 million orphans and vulnerable children, and training and retaining at least 140,000 new health workers.

"Congress noted the need to consistently scale up resources over time and the funding they authorized was the minimum amount needed to meet these laudable targets," said Daoust. "Those goals are only attainable, however, if we commit the necessary resources in 2010 and beyond."

The Health Action AIDS Campaign at PHR mobilizes health professionals to support comprehensive HIV prevention and care initiatives that target women and injection drug users and advocates for unprecedented funds to fight global AIDS, strengthening Africa's health systems and health workforce.

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) is a New York-based advocacy organization that uses science and medicine to stop mass atrocities and severe human rights violations. Learn more here.

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