Pubdate: Fri, 12 Jul 2002
Source: St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
Copyright: 2002 St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Author: Lawrence K. Altman, of the New York Times
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


BARCELONA, Spain - Former President Bill Clinton said at an international 
AIDS conference Thursday night that he regretted not having done more about 
AIDS while he was in office.

Clinton said he had erred in failing to support funding for needle exchange 
programs to prevent the spread of the virus among injecting drug users.

In an interview after a session of the 14th International AIDS Conference 
in Barcelona, Clinton also urged leaders in hard-hit Africa, the Caribbean 
and Asia to speak out forcefully and develop plans to stop the spread of 
the disease.

He said that although many political leaders had been afraid to take a 
strong stand on AIDS, "not a single one of them will be defeated for doing 
the right thing."

Clinton said that since leaving office, he had kept quiet on AIDS for 
personal and policy reasons. But now, he said, he has decided the time is 
right to speak out.

"I had young friends who died in their 20s," Clinton said. "I don't want 
kids to die."

He called AIDS an economic, security and humanitarian issue for which the 
United States should pay its fair share. He added, "That requires us to go 
from $800 million a year now to $2.5 billion, which is a couple of months 
of the Afghan war."

He applauded Sen. Jesse Helms, R-N.C., for ending his opposition to AIDS 
expenditures and urging the United States to invest $500 million a year in 
battling the disease.

Clinton said, "If people are given the facts, they will do the right thing, 
because they do not want to see their children die."

The former president stressed the need for each country to develop "a plan 
that says, 'Here is what we are doing, and here is what we need from the 
rest of the world.'" Further spread of the disease, he said, could lead to 
more ethnic clashes and destabilize democracies in Africa.

He foresaw a similar possibility in parts of the former Soviet Union. 
There, he said, a worsening AIDS epidemic could lead countries to "become 
even more dominated by narco-traffickers and organized criminals."

Asked about what he had done to fight AIDS as president, Clinton said, "Do 
I wish I could have done more? Yes - but I do not know that I could have 
done it."

In particular, he cited his stance on needle exchange programs. In 1998, 
his administration decided against lifting a long-standing ban on federal 
financing for programs to distribute clean needles to drug addicts.

"I think I was wrong about that," Clinton said. "I should have tried harder 
to do that."

At the time, Clinton's advisers said they feared a political disaster for 
him if he lifted the ban. They also feared that Republicans might push 
through legislation stripping federal money from groups that provided free 

On Thursday, Clinton said he had ultimately been swayed against the needle 
program by Gen. Barry McCaffrey, who served as director of national drug 
policy in his administration.

He added, "There have been several studies now, all of which indicate that 
a needle exchange program does not increase drug use."

Clinton also took the occasion to applaud the 12 Caribbean countries for 
signing an initiative to buy AIDS drugs at a lower price than they could 
have individually. If the Caribbean plan succeeds, he said, it should be 
tried in the former Soviet Union.
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