Pubdate: Thu, 03 May 2007
Source: Victoria Times-Colonist (CN BC)
Copyright: 2007 Times Colonist
Author: Marilyn Callahan
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


Re: "AIDS organization's facilities seem fine," April 29.

The letter raised questions about why AIDS Vancouver Island's needle 
exchange, which operated successfully until 2001 in Commercial Alley, 
is now struggling at its location on Cormorant Street.

Times have changed, and in some respects not for the better. By the 
time we moved from Commercial Alley, the area had become the heart of 
the city's restaurant and shopping district. At that time we 
exchanged about 400,000 syringes a year, less than half the volume we 
exchange today. (We remain proud of the 95-per-cent return rate.)

Since then there has been an unprecedented increase in 
street-associated substance use, homelessness and associated mental 
health and public safety issues.

Yet our budget has remained the same. What's more, the Vancouver 
Island Health Authority recently announced the removal of $450,000 -- 
37.5 per cent of our modest budget -- beginning next April.

We also have to move the needle exchange again. Our area has changed 
to a high-density residential neighbourhood and the facilities are 
far too small to cope with the numbers of people using them.

We cannot give up.

One of the most significant ways to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS is 
through a needle exchange.

One virus transmission prevented saves the health-care system more 
than $180,000, and much more if users can find help to deal with 
their addictions. An effective needle exchange can help people to 
take the next step.

Many of our clients have left the deadly cycle of drug use, property 
crime and homelessness that ensnare them and we know that many more can do so.

VIHA has always applauded the quality of our service and we have 
experienced overwhelming support from the City of Victoria, Victoria 
police, the United Way, the Downtown Service Providers and many other 
community groups and citizens.

We have been offered help from the community to find a new rental 
location and funds for its renovation.

Rather than take aim at AVI for the street problems, it would be 
better to turn attention to the policy makers who are stripping 
public-health dollars from our community.

Marilyn Callahan,


AIDS Vancouver Island.
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