Yesterday the US finally dropped its absolutely senseless law forbidding people with HIV from visiting the Land of the Free. (While Saint Obama is getting patted on the back for ending the ban, he was actually signing off on something that George Bush put in motion last year). That’s unmitigated good news for people with HIV, their lovers, friends and families, as well as for a lot of US employers who can’t import some of the best and the brightest simply because they have a not-very infectious virus that can only be transmitted in a tiny number of well-known ways which we can protect against with safe, cheap technologies.
Does this signal a new wave of common sense in HIV prevention in the United States? That’s certainly what we expected when Obama was elected. During his campaign, for example, he recognised that sterile needle programmes cut HIV infection among injectors, saving lives and money, and pledged to end a ban on funding those programmes from federal coffers. So cities such as his home town of Chicago, pictured in the map below, will now be able to use central money to provide clean needles to the inner city injectors that need them most. As long as they set up in one of the grey spaces. In the cemetary, in other words.
(Click to enlarge)
On this fantastic map, which comes from Yale University’s Dr. Russell Barbour by way of Stop the Drug War, the red areas are the parts of town where it would be illegal to operate a federally funded needle exchange under new rules proposed by Congress. The Drug War Chronicle provides an interesting history of the needle exchange shenannigans. Essentially, Obama did not remove the ban from a budget bill because he thinks policy shouldn’t be made through sub-clauses in budget bills. Democrats on the committee discussing the bill disagreed, and dropped the ban. Then Republicans, not willing to give up the idea that the availability of clean needles would have us all racing to start shooting up smack, decided to protect the innocent by forbidding needle programmes within 1,000 feet of “a public or private day care centre, elementary school, vocational school, secondary school, college, junior college, or university, or any public swimming pool, park, playground, video arcade, or youth centre, or an event sponsored by any such entity”. That’s the red bits on the map of Chicago above. Here’s Dr, Barbour’s map of needle exchange exclusion zones in San Francisco:
This is clearly just a way of pulling the rug from under any effort to increase access to clean needles. We’ve come to expect this kind of implaccable opposition from conservative Drug Warriors in the United States. We used to expect the Brits to be more rational about their drug policy, and the UK has, thank God, held on to its policy of providing clean fits for anyone that needs them. But with the sacking of the government’s independent advisor on drugs David Nutt for repeating his independent advice after the government chose to ignore it, I’m not so sure.
I’m not even going to wade in here about whether or not idependent scientific advisers to government should shut up after their advice is ignored, but I will commend to you a wonderful paper by Dr Nutt on the dangers of Equasy, (pdf) an irrational addiction to horse riding. This has been seized on by many who have not read it as an example of his inappropriate analyses. Irony, where art thou?
The US Drug Warriors also joyously seized on the latest round of anonymous surveillance of HIV among drug injectors in Britain, sending out an e-mail crowing about rising rates of HIV and drawing a link between that and the fact that the UK was the first country in the world to have national injection safety programmes. My next post will put those rather one-eyed claims into perspective.