D.C. should stick with its needle exchange program

Monday, February 28, 2011; 7:16 PM

Regarding Petula Dvorak's Feb. 25 Metro column, " End of exchange a loss in D.C.'s AIDS fight ":

Ending the PreventionWorks needle exchange program in the District, which has the highest HIV rate in the country, ranks as one of the most shortsighted public health moves I have ever seen.

Because of harm-reduction measures such as needle exchange programs, the United States has achieved a significant reduction of HIV infection (more than 80 percent) among injecting drug users, so this change makes no sense as health policy. It also makes zero economic sense, since it costs $36,000 a year to treat a person with HIV. It is especially problematic at a moment when the federal Ryan White program to support care for indigent HIV patients has a waiting list of more than 4,000 people.

And why is PreventionWorks folding? Partly because the mangled D.C. financial system cannot come up with $130,000 for the program.

I have been working in Russia for the past decade on HIV control. Russia has a raging HIV epidemic largely driven by injecting drug use. Harm reduction is not practiced. The District should know better.

Harvey Sloane, Washington

The writer was D.C. health commissioner from 1995 to 1997.

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