03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

For World AIDS Day, Obama Should Keep Promise On Syringe Exchange

President Barack Obama should urge House and Senate negotiators to end
the ban against federal funding for syringe exchange in order to curb
HIV and viral hepatitis infections in the US. This was his position as
a candidate for the White House and the position he reiterated upon
assuming office earlier this year.

Without White House intervention, House and Senate appropriators are
likely to negotiate a final bill that fails to embrace a provision
championed by House Appropriations Chairman David Obey (D-WI) to end the
decades-old funding ban.

Moreover, the District of Columbia, where HIV prevalence rates rival
those in Sub-Saharan Africa, could be hamstrung in its efforts to combat
the nation's worst HIV epidemic. Just last year, Washington, DC secured
the legal authority in legislation signed by President George W. Bush to
spend municipal taxpayer dollars on syringe-exchange services as part of
a comprehensive response to the epidemic. It would be an embarrassment
for President Obama if the District of Columbia were to again be
restricted by law from responding to the needs of its residents.

The Obama Administration is taking a bold step by leading efforts to
develop the nation's first-ever National HIV/AIDS Strategy, but progress
against syringe-related HIV infections must not wait for this planning
process to produce yet another government recommendation that public
policy follow the science. Put plainly, syringe exchange effectively
and cheaply prevents cases of HIV and viral hepatitis without increasing
drug use or crime. The lack of adequate access to sterile syringes and
addiction treatment services remains an egregious gap in our public
response to preventable diseases. Foregoing effective interventions has
already generated significant medical costs and caused immeasurable
human suffering.

Congressional negotiators are likely to listen to the President if he
urges them to end the ban and other restrictive provisions against
syringe-exchange access. The question now is whether Mr. Obama intends
to keep his promise.


David Ernesto Munar, Vice President
AIDS Foundation of Chicago

Katie Caldwell, President/CEO
Legacy Community Health Services
Houston, TX

Mark Cloutier
CEO, San Francisco AIDS Foundation
President, Pangaea Global AIDS Foundation
San Francisco, CA

Kandy Ferree, President/CEO
National AIDS Fund
Washington, DC

Rebecca Haag, CEO/President
AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts
Boston, MA

Marjorie Hill, PhD, President/CEO
Gay Men's Health Crisis
New York, NY

David Holtgrave, PhD
Baltimore, MD

Mark Ishaug, President/CEO
AIDS Foundation of Chicago
Chicago, IL

Paul Kawata, Executive Director
National Minority AIDS Council
Washington, DC

Dr. Celia Maxwell
Howard University Hospital
Washington, DC

Craig E. Thompson, Executive Director
AIDS Project Los Angeles
Los Angeles, CA

Phill Wilson, Executive Director
Black AIDS Institute
Los Angeles, CA

The twelve authors are leading AIDS advocate working with local, state,
and national partners to advance the fight against HIV/AIDS in the U.S.