Pubdate: Wed, 09 Dec 1998
Source: San Francisco Bay Guardian, The (CA)
Copyright: 1998 San Francisco Bay Guardian
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)


ON NOV . 5 Alameda became the first county in the country to declare a 
health emergency in the African American community. The main impetus for 
the emergency resolution is AIDS, now at epidemic proportions in the 
county's black population. African Americans, who make up 18 percent of the 
county's population, now account for 41 percent of all AIDS cases in the 
county and are five times as likely as whites to be diagnosed with the disease.

The county's declaration is commendable: it's an encouraging statement on 
the county's commitment to ending the tragedy that is now the leading cause 
of death in the United States among blacks between 25 and 44. And it's a 
good tactical move to get more money out of the federal government, which 
announced last month that it would set aside $156 million in emergency 
federal funds to address a national crisis of AIDS in African American 

But it's not all the county can be doing. In 1998 intravenous drug use is 
the primary cause of HIV, especially among low-income communities like 
those in Alameda County. Six federal studies have confirmed that needle 
exchange programs reduce the incidence of HIV/AIDS by a third.

That clearly means that stemming the spread of HIV/AIDS requires an 
absolute end to the leading risk behavior -- sharing needles. Alameda 
County has two needle-exchange programs at five sites in Oakland and 
Berkeley. The programs exchange 1.3 million syringes a year and serve 
hundreds of people a week. But the HIV Education and Prevention Project of 
Alameda County estimates that it's only reaching 12 to 15 percent of the 

And, as Angela Rowen reports, the Alameda programs get only $20,000 from 
the county.

State and federal laws limit funds for needle exchange, but dozens of 
cities and counties, including San Francisco, have found ways to directly 
fund these programs. There's no reason why Alameda County can't do the same.