Ban on Federal Funding for Needle Exchange Is "Dark Day" for HIV/AIDS Fight

Congress cuts funding for HIV and AIDS services.

By Chris Roberts
|  Thursday, Oct 25, 2012  |  Updated 1:32 PM PDT
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Congress' Cuts To HIV Needle Exchange "Dark Day"

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Red ribbons mark World AIDS Day. Congress has elected to cut treatment for HIV and AIDS patients.

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Congress's decision to halt federal funding for needle exchange programs is a step backward in the fight against HIV and AIDS, according to Bay Area public health advocates.

An unrelated spending bill approved by Congress last week kiboshes federal spending for local needle exchange programs. President Barack Obama is expected to sign the bill; the president in 2009 reversed an earlier ban on such funding, which had been in place since the 1980s.

The reversal on Capitol Hill is "a dark day in public health policy," James Loduca, vice president of public affairs for the San Francisco AIDS Foundation, told the San Francisco Examiner.

The cuts don't necessarily mean that needle exchange programs -- credited as a key preventative measure that's helped slow the spread of HIV and AIDS -- will end in the Bay Area. They do mean that programs in both San Francisco and San Mateo County will receive less federal funding, which means that services will be reduced somewhere -- and that could eventually include needle exchange programs, advocates say.

At the least, the move will prevent the AIDS Foundation and other service providers from expanding HIV/AIDS treatment and research.

"We have nothing to fall back on; we did lose a safety net for a vulnerable population," said Matt Geltmaker, STD/HIV program director in San Mateo County, where such services are funded entirely through $150,000 in taxpayer monies. In San Francisco, private donors fund some services.

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