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For Immediate Release

Congress Lifts Ban on Federal Funds for Needle Exchanges Aimed at AIDS Prevention

Cambridge, Mass - 12/14/2009

(Washington, DC) — Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) commends Congress for ending the ban on federal funding of syringe exchange programs intended to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS.

"For 22 years this ban has been an obstacle to effective and comprehensive services that address HIV and other health needs of injecting drug users in the US and around the world," said PHR CEO Frank Donaghue.

More than 20 years of research in the US and internationally show that needle exchange is an effective public health approach to reducing the transmission of HIV, viral hepatitis, and other blood-borne pathogens. Research has also shown that syringe exchange programs do not encourage drug use nor increase crime rates in communities that offer these services.

"This is a huge victory for HIV and viral hepatitis prevention and a sign of hope for human rights," said PHR Senior Global Health Policy Advocate Paola Barahona. "It's hard to believe that it took 22 years for policy to catch up with common sense. Syringe exchange programs help safeguard public health by encouraging drug users to access health systems. These programs have demonstrated positive impacts on the health of individuals, families and whole communities."

There are an estimated 16 million injection drug users (IDUs) worldwide — 3 million of whom live with HIV. Almost a third of new HIV infections outside of sub-Saharan Africa are attributed to injection drug use, yet as few as 8% of drug injectors have access to HIV prevention services of any kind. In the US, 16% of new cases are attributed to injection drug use.

"What many people do not realize is that the impact of the syringe exchange ban extends beyond our national borders," Barahona stated. "The ban has been applied to foreign assistance and has prohibited PEPFAR from funding this important intervention in resource-poor countries facing rapidly expanding injection-driven HIV epidemics, such as those in Vietnam and Eastern Europe. It is crucial that the Obama administration move swiftly to enact this legislation and amend PEPFAR guidance to allow funding of effective needle exchange services in countries around the world."

The bill will next go to President Obama to sign into legislation that will officially end the ban. PHR calls on President Obama and the administration to act swiftly to enact this legislation.

But the work doesn't end there.

"We need to make sure that this policy is implemented well and that these programs are properly supported in communities where they are needed across the country and around the world," concluded Barahona.

PHR's Harm Reduction Campaign advocates for the United States Government's adoption and implementation of health policies that are evidence-based, practical, rights-based and appropriate for injecting and other drug users.

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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