Source: Age, The (Australia)
Copyright: 1998 David Syme & Co Ltd 
Pubdate: Sun, 1 Nov 1998
Page: 10
Author: Darren Gray


(Note: I feel this should be brought to the attention of authorities
everywhere. pd) 

Eleven years ago it started off as a ground breaking and controversial
Victorian public health project to fight the AIDS epidemic. Pour
organisations were granted legislative approval to distribute free needles
and syringes to drug users.

Victoria had a burgeoning problem with a frightening disease doctors knew
little about. AIDS sufferers were withering and dying and those at the
coalface believed that making clean, safe needles available would help
limit the spread of HIV.

More than 14 million syringes and nearly 200 needle exchange centres later,
we have one of the lowest HIV infection rates in the developed world, and
our HIV prevention strategies have been copied by others around the globe.

The spotlight has fallen on drug use and needle disposal recently with the
news that Ansett Airlines has decided to install needle disposal bins on
its aircraft - a move strongly criticised by a senior Salvation Army officer.

But community attitudes towards drug use are changing. Many people now
consider drug use a health problem rather than a criminal concern.
Department stores David Jones and Myer now even have disposal bins in their
city stores.

Victoria's needle exchange program, coordinated and largely funded by the
Victorian Department of Human Services, is described by public health
researchers such as Dr Nick Crofts as "one of the great public health

"We have had terrific success in the prevention of HIV in current
circumstances, but HIV has not gone away, despite what people seem to
think. We now have the challenge of hepatitis C. And controlling hepatitis
C, we know, is going to require a much greater effort than what we put into
controlling HIV. So we should be looking at expanding needle exchange,
multiplying the outlets and increasing the funding for those outlets and
also looking at the groups that needle exchange is not getting to," Dr
Crofts said.

In Victoria, many community health centres, some hospitals and drug and
alcohol rehabilitation centres participate in the needle-exchange program.

There are also centres, such as the Health Information Exchange in Grey
Street, St Kilda, that operate solely as a needle-exchange site. The centre
is the busiest needle exchange in the state. Each day it has about 180

The coordinator of the centre, Mr Simon Kroes, said the needle-exchange
program was essential to the fight against blood-borne viruses such as
hepatitis C and was also an avenue for public health workers to keep
contact with some of the most marginalised members of society.

The centre had adopted a strong harm-minimisation philosophy, assisted with
people's health, and was non-judgmental about drug use, he said.

- ---
Checked-by: Pat Dolan