Pubdate: Wed, 09 Dec 1998 Source: San Francisco Bay Guardian, The (CA) Copyright: 1998 San Francisco Bay Guardian Contact: http://www.sfbg.com/ Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/387 Bookmark: http://www.mapinc.org/find?137 (Needle Exchange) FUND ALAMEDA'S 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 communities. 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 population. 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.