New York, NY- December 1st marks the observance of World AIDS Day. This international day of action reminds the world that HIV/AIDS has not gone away and encourages participation in strategies to fight this global epidemic. Events in the United States and around the world include candlelight vigils, musical and dramatic performances, and education and awareness seminars.
Lack of access to sterile syringes remains a leading cause of new HIV infections in the United States. Yet efforts to increase access to sterile syringes have lagged in the United States due to inaction by the federal government. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates of the 42,156 new AIDS cases reported in the United States in 2000, 11,635 of them were associated with sharing of contaminated syringes by injection drug users. Since the epidemic began 57% of all AIDS cases among women have been associated with sharing of contaminated syringes. Despite these figures the federal government continues to ban the use of federal money for syringe access programs.
"It is unconscionable for our government to continue to prevent access to clean needles for injection drug users," said Ethan Nadelmann, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, "Overwhelming evidence, including the federal government's own studies, has shown that access to clean needles reduces the spread AIDS, hepatitis C, and other diseases. But we have trailed most other countries in implementing syringe access programs."
Despite this lack of action on the federal level, AIDS activists and organizations won major victories on the state level in the fight against AIDS in 2004. The Drug Policy Alliance led efforts across the nation to lift governmental barriers to access clean needle syringes.
In California, Drug Policy Alliance successfully advocated for legislation to allow pharmacies to sell up to 10 syringes without a prescription. "This is the most important AIDS prevention legislation in California history," said Glenn Backes, director of the Alliance's California Capital Office, "Allowing adults to purchase syringes will reduce rates of HIV and other diseases without increasing drug use. It will save lives and money." California Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed the life-saving measure, joining 45 other states in allowing non-prescription sale of syringes.
In New Jersey, Drug Policy Alliance supported legislation to allow for increased access to syringes. When the legislation stalled, Governor James McGreevey signed an executive order allowing three municipalities affected with high HIV/AIDS rates to establish sterile syringe access programs. "We've lost more than 15,000 people in New Jersey to dirty needles," said Roseanne Scotti, director of Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey, "This executive order finally allows us to fight the AIDS epidemic in New Jersey with the best prevention measures possible." New Jersey has the 5th highest number of adult HIV cases, the 3rd highest number of pediatric HIV cases, the highest proportion of women infected with HIV in the nation, and a rate of HIV infection related to the sharing of contaminated syringes that is twice the national average. New Jersey's annual AIDS Forum will be held in Atlantic City on November 30 and December 1.
For more information on how you may get involved with World AIDS Day inquire to www.worldaidsday.org
For more information about the Drug Policy Alliance's efforts to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS and work surrounding policy change for increased access to clean needles inquire to www.drugpolicy.org