Nineteen percent of all AIDS victims in California contracted HIV from sharing contaminated needles. Sixty percent of the people in the United States infected with Hepatitis C transmitted the disease via injection equipment.
Of all the promises President Obama made during his presidential campaign, lifting the ban on federal funding of needle exchange was one of the most important and progressive. Unfortunately, he has failed to live up to his promise.
Earlier this month, Obama actively refused to reserve promised federal funding for syringe exchange programs (SEPs) in the budget, effectively protecting the existing ban on federal funding for SEPs.
The United States is supposed to be the leader of the free world, especially when it comes to health. Our doctors and our hospitals have the most advanced medical technology available, yet residents of this country are infected with the same diseases that ravage Third World countries.
Policy cannot simply reflect the politics of the rich and healthy. Obama promised the country change and hope and honesty. Yet this decision disregards the well-being — fiscal and otherwise — of our country and the people in it.
Not only has he failed to address one of the most important health concerns facing our country, Obama has passed up the opportunity to protect the voiceless sufferers of infectious disease.
The majority of California residents infected with HIV/AIDS are minorities. The people whose hopes of a brighter and better future rode in with Obama are the first to feel his neglect.
California is already facing the financial repercussions of irresponsible lawmakers and legislators. Now is not the time to inflict reckless acts of cowardice on us. Making decisions based on what the country needs, not on what the ban’s sponsors want, was what we had in mind when Obama got into office.
Health care for liver disease patients costs between $15,000 and $20,000 each year.
According to an MSNBC article written in 2006, treating HIV/AIDS patients can cost more that $600,000 over 25 years (the estimated prognosis of a person diagnosed with HIV). Minimum costs for HIV/AIDS treatment can reach up to $25,000 each year.
These figures are exponentially higher than the cost of funding SEPs, which are proven to reduce the rate of infection without increasing use. Taxpayers often foot the bill.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention-funded California Syringe Exchange Program Study, more than 80 percent of programs evaluated in 2004 were operating with budgets of less than $100,000 per year.
Hence, for the cost of four HIV/AIDS patients, SEPs can provide clean injection equipment to dozens and prevent further spread of devastating diseases.
California Senate Bill 1159 legalized the sale of syringes in pharmacies per local government approval. This bill allows registered pharmacies to sell up to 10 needles over the counter to any customer, provided that they offer information about drug rehabilitation programs and the appropriate disposal containers.
People who can’t afford or don’t want to buy syringes may exchange their used or contaminated syringes for new ones at clinics like Santa Cruz’s local organization, the Santa Cruz AIDS Project (SCAP). SCAP and similar organizations throughout the country provide a safe space for needle users to access clean injection equipment.
President Obama’s decision to maintain the ban on funding for programs like the one at SCAP makes it fiscally and sanitarily inefficient.
Making decisions out of fear of being reprimanded by social conservatives who propagandize federal funding of SEPs as promoting drug use is a concession that the country cannot afford to make. Claims that SEPs increase rates of drug abuse are entirely unfounded. Studies conducted by the Office of AIDS California Deparement of Health have demonstrated that SEPs slash rates of HIV infection in half without increasing overall drug use.
The same tired political excuses are compromising the health of California. President Obama’s novelty does not pardon him from recklessness, and abandoning the cause that SEPs advocate is tantamount to condemning thousands of people to infectious diseases.