Thursday, March 10, 2005

US under fire over needle exchanges for AIDS prevention

The controversy regarding the current administration's stand on needle exchange is expanding. In a letter coordinated with 300 organizations from 56 countries, Human Rights Watch laid out concerns about the US' pressure on the UN not to support needle exchange programs. While the "mainstream" view is that needle exchange is a public health solution to a public health problem, the US is taking the position that needle exchange contributes to drug use and is, therefore, part of the public health problem. The US, not surprisingly, is advocating abstinence.

The result:

"We must not deny these addicts any genuine opportunities to remain HIV negative," Antonio Maria Costa, head of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) told in Vienna on Monday the 48th session of the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs (CND).

Costa said that contaminated syringes were a major source of transmission of the HIV virus and other diseases including hepatitis, especially among drug users whose capacity for rational thought was diminished.

"We reject the false dichotomy that either drug control prevails, with no consideration for HIV, or that HIV prevention prevails with no consideration for drug abuse," he added.

. . .

Costa had said in a letter sent in November to the US State Department that the controversy over US objections to needle exchanges "continue to place... (Costa's office) in a difficult position," according to a copy of the letter obtained by AFP.

Costa said the United Nations does not "endorse needle exchanges as a solution for drug abuse nor support public statements advocating such practices" and feels such "prophylactic measures to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS should be undertaken only within the overall effort to reduce druge abuse," the letter said. (sic)

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