Edmonton, Canada, Needle-Exchange Programs Need Better Government Funding, Advocates Say
Programs in Edmonton, Canada, that distribute clean needles and provide basic health care to individuals at high risk of contracting HIV or hepatitis C need additional funding to reduce the number of new infections in the area, harm reduction advocates say, the Edmonton Journal reports. Programs such as Streetworks, which serves injection drug users and other individuals with high-risk lifestyles, are essential for limiting the number of new HIV cases in Edmonton, Dr. Stan Houston, an infectious disease specialist and the director of the northern Alberta HIV program, said. Although the number of new HIV cases in northern Alberta has remained stable in recent years -- with 131 new infections in 1998, 176 in 1999, 185 in 2000, 171 in 2001 and 172 in 2002 -- Houston said, "Stable is terrible," adding, "It should be going down." Community health care workers fear that the number of new cases will not go down because government funding for prevention efforts such as Streetworks "doesn't come close" to the amount needed, according to the Journal. Streetworks and other similar programs depend on short-term grants to fill holes in their budget that leave administrators "scrambling" to cover operating costs, according to the Journal. "I could spend my whole day writing proposals for $5,000 grants," Streetworks employee Marliss Taylor said, adding, "And while they can be very helpful ... [i]t would be nice to have something that's more sustainable." Houston said that regional health authorities should continue to fund programs such as Streetworks because the primary health care provided by the program reduces the number of emergency room visits by the program's clients. Approximately 1,600 people participated in the Streetworks program in July, and between 55,000 and 60,000 needles are exchanged every month. In addition to needle-exchange and primary health services, condom distribution is also an important part of the group's prevention program, according to the Journal (Janus, Edmonton Journal, 9/8).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.