HIV/AIDS Council Rebukes Clinton Administration
Group wants federal funding for needle exchange programs
WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, March 17) -- The members of the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS held a press conference Tuesday to express their frustration with the Clinton Administration's inaction on needle exchange.
The group has previously called on Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Donna Shalala to lift the ban on federal funding for needle exchange programs, and in a letter to her on Monday, it wrote, "We call upon you to make an immediate determination and to allow the local use of federal funds for needle exchange programs as part of a comprehensive HIV prevention program. To do anything less would be an abdication of your responsibilities."
Congress has said two tests must be met before Shalala could lift the ban of using federal funding for needle exchange programs. First, HHS must show that HIV cases decrease with the use of the needle exchange programs, and secondly, it must be shown that the programs don't encourage drug use.
HHS spokeswoman Melissa Skolfield said reports have shown the programs reduce transmission of HIV among intravenous drug users, but although several local programs have not reported an increase in drug use, Shalala is still not convinced the second test has been conclusively met.
According to the committee, six federally funded reports, a National Institutes of Health report and many other studies have concluded that needle exchange programs reduce HIV transmission and do not encourage drug use.
Last fall, Congress took away Shalala's ability to lift the ban on federal funding for needle exchange until March 31, 1998. The committee says even though she can't lift the ban right now, she can recognize the necessary reports have been gathered and needle exchange programs meet both requirements set by the government.
There are about 100 needle exchange programs around the country, according to the Whitman-Walker Clinic which runs the needle exchange program in Washington, but none operates with federal money.
In September 1997, Dr. Peter Beilenson, the Baltimore City Health Commissioner, told Congress about the Baltimore needle exchange program. He said, "The program is accomplishing its mission of reducing the transmission of HIV among injection drug users, their sexual partners and their offspring."
In the draft of a letter to the president on Monday, the council wrote, "Secretary Shalala must issue an immediate determination that needle exchange programs meet the two-pronged test laid out in the law and must remove the restriction on the use of federal funds." The letter closed by saying, "In the nearly three years of the Council's existence, we have issued numerous recommendations and letters on this issue, and there is tremendous impatience and anger in the community and among Council members that nothing has happened."