Pubdate: Thu, 14 Feb 2002
Source: Rutland Herald (VT)
Copyright: 2002 Rutland Herald
Author: Tom Dalton


After weeks of addressing the threat of anthrax, smallpox and other 
microbes to the health of Vermonters, Governor Dean recently recommitted to 
protecting Vermonters from a more immediate threat: HIV/AIDS. Dean said he 
would like to see HIV/AIDS "put back on the front burner." I hope he means it.

HIV is already here in Vermont, and it won't take a terrorist to make an 
epidemic in Vermont a reality a=80" our own lack of preparedness may 
beenough. That's because in the middle of what some are calling an epidemic 
of heroin use in Vermont, our state does not have a viable infrastructure 
of needle exchange programs.

HIV is most often transmitted through sex and needle sharing. Providing 
broad access to free condoms and sterile syringes is the single most 
important thing we can do to protect our communities.

The governor recently visited Eastern Europe, where burgeoning HIV 
epidemics are being driven by injection drug use. Injection drug use is 
also increasingly common in Vermont. More and more people, many in their 
teens and early 20s, are injecting heroin and other drugs. For those who 
share syringes and their sexual partners, HIV infection is a serious 
threat. Unless we act now, Vermont may be on the brink of an epidemic of 
its own.

Needle exchange programs are scientifically proven to dramatically reduce 
HIV transmission without increasing drug use overall or via injection. 
Vermont law provides for the establishment of needle exchange programs. 
Governor Dean supported and signed the law, but so far he hasn't done much 
to make needle exchange a reality in Vermont. Let's say, needle exchange 
hasn't been on the front burner.

Not a penny of state or local government funds goes to needle exchange 
programs in Vermont. This in spite of the fact that two-thirds of needle 
exchange programs in other states are funded by state or local governments. 
We should ask our officials why Vermont hasn't accepted its responsibility 
in this area when the health and safety of the entire community is at stake.

As the governor travels to Africa to attend a conference on HIV/AIDS, I 
hope he takes some time to consider two important steps he can take to 
prevent HIV transmission here at home: First, the governor should make it a 
personal goal to make needle exchange a reality statewide before his term 
ends. Second, the governor should commit to making state funding available 
for needle exchange. Without such funding, Vermont will continue to face 
the biological threat of HIV/AIDS without the infrastructure it needs to 
protect our citizens.


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MAP posted-by: Larry Stevens