Needle Exchange Programs Lose Federal Funding: Local AIDS Programs Brace For Cuts

In a crushing blow to the healthcare community, President Obama is expected to sign new legislation that prohibits federal funding on needle exchange programs both domestically and abroad -- a federally funded program that he himself signed into effect in 2009.

The amendment is part of the 2012 government operations funding legislation and is widely seen as a step backward in the fight against HIV and AIDS, especially considering that injection drug use has accounted for about 36 percent of all infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The reinstatement of the ban is really a dark day in public health policy," said Vice President of Public Affairs for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation James Loduca to the Examiner.

According to the Examiner, the new ban will not have an immediate effect on San Francisco or the Peninsula, where programs are funded by county general grants. However, the ban could significantly derail future local efforts, as the Examiner reported:

But advocates say the move could hinder their agencies' ability to expand existing services by pulling away a funding safety net, deterring agencies that plan to fight the ban from pursuing other initiatives and derailing years of advancement in HIV/AIDS research and treatment.

"People are gearing up for this fight, but there are a lot of other things we could be working on," said Laura Thomas, a deputy state director for the Drug Policy Alliance’s San Francisco office. "It’s so frustrating at this point in the epidemic." Money and manpower that will be spent trying to lift the ban again next year could be better spent supporting treatment programs and research, Thomas said.

Though needle exchange programs have seen significant success at curbing infection rates (according to the San Francisco Chronicle, a 1997 study found that HIV infection rates dropped by 5.8 percent in cities with needle exchange programs, and rose 5.9 percent in cities without them) it took AIDS activists 21 years to convince Congress to support federal funding.

With an unbelievably tight economy, healthcare cuts are to be expected. But one can only imagine the long-term costs of a nationwide increase in HIV and AIDS infections.