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For Immediate Release

HIV/AIDS Activists Rally for Increased Funding and Syringe Exchange Programs

Cambridge, Mass - 07/07/2009

(Cambridge, MA) With Congress holding crucial votes on funding for global and domestic HIV/AIDS programs this week, Boston-area medical students and health professionals rallied on Beacon Hill to urge leaders to provide substantial increases that reflect the needs of hard-hit communities in the US and around the world. They also called for an end to the ban on federal funding for syringe exchange programs.

"HIV/AIDS is not in recession. We must fulfill US commitments to fight AIDS," said Sarah Kalloch, Director of Outreach for Physicians for Human Rights, a lead organizer of the rally.

Every 9.5 minutes there is one new HIV infection in the US, 45 new HIV infections worldwide and 36 AIDS-related deaths. The fiscal year 2010 funding levels proposed by the Obama Administration and under consideration by Congress fall drastically short of what is needed to fulfill US commitments at home and abroad.

"The United States has both the resources and the responsibility to keep its promise to scaling up HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention programs while strengthening its commitment to other critical global health initiatives," Dr. Chris Curry, PHR member and intern at Boston Medical Center. "Today we gathered as concerned health care workers and in alliance with our colleagues across the country to urge the nation's leaders to stand with us fully in support of those living with and at risk for HIV across the country and around the world."

The rally is part of a coordinated effort of dozens of HIV/AIDS advocacy organizations across the country calling on leaders in Congress to strengthen US commitments to HIV /AIDS prevention and treatment programs. From June 30-July 7, activists in cities throughout the country are targeting Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to increase funding levels for global and domestic HIV/AIDS programs. The Senate Appropriations Committee is scheduled to vote on its foreign assistance appropriations bill this week and the House of Representatives is scheduled to deliberate its version of the bill on House floor. These bills include the appropriations for the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

PHR estimates the need for HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria programs outlined in PEPFAR alone reach at least $60 billion over six years. Yet, President Obama's budget called for $63 billion over six years for all global health programs, including PEPFAR, the Global Fund, and all other bi-lateral and multilateral global health programs. The need for the global health initiatives outlined in President Obama's budget and to meet all US global health commitments is at least $95 billion, and quite possibly significantly more.

Stagnating funding levels in the current budget are already having a devastating impact on those most vulnerable. According to PHR Advisor and PEPFAR pioneer Dr. Peter Mugyenyi, US-funded treatment centers in Uganda are being forced to turn away patients who are medically eligible for treatment. "The global financial crisis cannot justify a return to the bleak pre-PEPFAR days when limited drug supplies forced us into the agonizing position of having to make a choice that only God should make: to choose which desperately ill patients live and which ones die," said Dr. Mugyenyi.

In addition to increased funding for PEPFAR, activists called on Majority Leader Reid and Speaker Pelosi to provide $2.7 billion to the Global Fund and $360 million for the Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS (HOPWA) program.

"The US has the opportunity to save millions of lives, but only if we commit the resources necessary. We are demanding that Congress do just that," said Kalloch.

Activist also called for the removal of the misguided, decades-old ban on federal funding for needle and syringe exchange programs. Research in the US and internationally has shown that syringe exchange is effective in reducing the transmission of HIV/AIDS, viral hepatitis, and other blood-borne diseases. Research has also shown that syringe exchange does not result in an increase in drug use nor does it result in increases in crime rates in communities that offer them. A Boston program operates with the support of local law enforcement agencies, but its funding is limited to state and local funds due to the federal funding ban.

"Congress has the opportunity to support these life-saving services by removing the 20-year-old ban on the use of federal dollars for syringe exchange. Denying people at risk for HIV a proven prevention intervention is a denial of their basic human rights," stated Paola Barahona, PHR's Senior Global Health Advocate.

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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