WASHINGTON - U.S. President Barack Obama's failure to lift a federal funding ban on syringe exchange -- a policy that allows intravenous drug users to swap used needles for clean ones -- is a blow to AIDS-prevention efforts, says a global health group.
Although Obama pledged on the campaign trail to overturn the federal ban on funding for syringe exchange, he refrained from doing so in his proposed 2010 budget. "Providing clean syringes is proven to be one of the most effective public health interventions since the polio vaccine," said Jennifer Flynn, managing director of Health Global Access Project (GAP). "It is clear that it works, but yet, we now have to wait for Congress to act to have the freedom to use every possible resource to make it widely available." (See Health GAP's full statement below.)
Overall, U.S. health advocates were extremely disappointed by the health provisions in the president's 2010 budget, unveiled yesterday. "Our analysis of the information provided by the White House today show that the president's FY10 global health budget essentially flat-lines support for global health and ignores the president's campaign promises to fully fund PEPFAR (the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) and to provide a fair-share contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB [tuberculosis], and Malaria," said Paul Zeitz, executive director of the Global AIDS Alliance. "This proposal is even worse than we had feared," added Christine Lubinski, director of the Center for Global Health Policy. "With this spending request, Obama has broken his campaign promise to provide 1 billion dollars a year in new money for global AIDS, and he has overlooked the growing threat of tuberculosis."
Just after Obama's election, AIDS activists spoke of high hopes for a renewed U.S. commitment to fighting the disease. Last month, however, a U.S. health care foundation said Obama's first official plan to fight domestic HIV/AIDS "falls far short" of what is needed to confront the growing epidemic. The $45 million media campaign, launched in early April, aims to raise awareness about domestic HIV/AIDS over the next five years. "If this proposal is any indication of how President Obama and his Administration intend to address the AIDS epidemic domestically or globally, we are deeply disappointed," said Michael Weinstein, president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation.
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PRESIDENT BREAKS ANOTHER CAMPAIGN PROMISE
From: Health Global Access Project (GAP)
Federal Ban on Funding for Syringe Exchange Remains in Budget
Washington, DC -- President Obama's budget does not follow through on one of his key campaign commitments - to lift the ban on federal funding for syringe access. Before and since taking office, President Obama has repeatedly asserted his support for syringe exchange programs. This latest disappointment comes on the heels of a newly announced six-year global health initiative that would actually reduce spending on global AIDS by $6.6 billion.
"Providing clean syringes is proven to be one of the most effective public health interventions since the polio vaccine. It is clear that it works, but yet, we now have to wait for Congress to act to have the freedom to use every possible resource to make it widely available," said Jennifer Flynn, Managing Director of Health GAP. Flynn lost a family member in 2005 to hepatitis C contracted from sharing used syringes. "If needle exchange programs were around when my cousin was injecting heroin, he would be alive today. President Obama could have done something simple to save lives. Now Congress needs to take action," she continued.
Jeff Crowley, national AIDS czar, said that the "President doesn't think policy should be done in the budget process." However, the federal ban on funding syringe exchange is housed in each annual appropriations bill, and must be removed from there to allow federal funds to go to these lifesaving programs. Removing the language would allow syringe exchange to be included in the HIV prevention toolkit, and as a result, HIV infections would be reduced. Crowley continued to say that syringe access will be discussed during the National AIDS Strategy. When asked for the time frame of this plan, he said that they are working on it as we speak and did not commit to a final due date. "When you are dealing with the containing the spread of a deadly virus, and you know something works, you don't need to wait for a "strategy" as well. Taking your time to develop a National AIDS Strategy is no excuse for NOT implementing lifesaving public policy now. Furthermore by NOT taking action, President Obama did set policy on this issue. The right thing to do is to remove the ban in the budget so that we can discuss using federal funds for this lifesaving program," said Kaytee Riek, Director of Organizing for Health GAP.
The federal ban on syringe access does not formally apply to programs outside of the United States, but under the previous administration, the ban became policy for foreign aid funding as well. That has meant that countries receiving funding from US-supported programs fighting AIDS could not use it to pay for syringe access programs.
"It is sad that my President broke his campaign promise by leaving the funding ban in the budget. Congress must now act and lift the funding ban when they take up the budget next week." said Jose DeMarco, Health GAP Board member, long-time member of ACT UP Philadelphia and founder of Proyecto Sol Filadelphia.