Needle-Exchange Program Needed in Canadian City of Victoria, Health Researcher Says
Needle-exchange efforts in the Canadian city of Victoria are "clearly inadequate" and do not meet international health guidelines on HIV/AIDS prevention, Thomas Kerr, a health researcher with the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, said recently, the Victoria Times Colonist reports. Kerr said that the city has been without a permanent needle-exchange facility since the last site closed about one year ago, following complaints from neighboring residents. After the Vancouver Island Health Authority decided not to open a fixed site, authority officials contracted AIDS Vancouver Island to offer a mobile needle-exchange service with two teams working from a van and on foot, the Times Colonist reports.
Kerr said that residents should be "very concerned about the fact that a relatively wealthy place like Victoria is not adhering to international guidelines regarding HIV prevention." Kerr said that he supports multiple, decentralized sites with clean needles available at locations such as pharmacies and walk-in clinics. He added that these services should be accompanied by recovery programs. According to Kerr, decentralized sites avoid the "honey pot" effect of having all program participants gathering in the same area. Bernie Pauly -- an assistant professor at the University of Victoria School of Nursing, who also supports multiple sites -- said, "I think it's important for the public to understand why this is beneficial and the public health consequences of not having an adequate needle exchange."
AVI supports multiple needle-exchange sites provided there is a centralized site to offer support and refer people to other services, according to executive director Katrina Jensen. Jensen said the group is in talks with the community-based Vancouver Needle Exchange Services Community Advisory Committee. VIHA spokesperson Jocelyn Stanton said the authority, AVI and the advisory committee have been collaborating for the past year. Stanton said, "Although we don't have any current plans for a fixed site at this time, we could welcome any proposal for a location in the downtown core that has the full support of the community." Victoria Mayor Dean Fortin, as well as city councilors Charlayne Thornton-Joe and Philippe Lucas, will travel to Vancouver Wednesday and meet with chief medical health officer Richard Stanwick to review how officials there implemented a needle-exchange program (Lavoie/Cleverley, Times Colonist, 4/7).