On April 24, AIDS United's Political Director Bill McColl was a featured speaker at the AIDSWatch congressional briefing. McColl focused on advocating for policies based on science over politics, particularly in the areas of syringe exchange, HIV criminalization, and sex education programs. Science has shown that syringe exchange programs prevent HIV and hepatitis C transmission, decrease substance abuse, and reach people who otherwise may not have access to the health care system. The cost of a clean syringe is just $0.07 and every dollar spent on syringe exchange saves $18 on the cost of treating HIV. Activists are working to end the federal ban on the use of federal funds for syringe exchange and to continue to allow the District of Columbia to use local funds for syringe exchange programs.
McColl spoke of the inefficiencies of current laws that criminalize people based on being HIV positive. Though policy makers claim the laws are to protect infected individuals only in cases of intentional transmission, McColl pointed out laws on assault and battery already cover the intention to harm. Laws that focus specifically on people with HIV further stigmatize HIV and discourage people from getting tested and finding out their status. McColl acknowledged the work of Representative Barbara Lee to address HIV criminalization laws. Her proposed legislation, HR 3053: REPEAL HIV Discrimination was designed to work with state and federal officials to change policies so they would be based on current science and would not place unique or additional burdens on individuals simply because of their HIV status.
McColl ended by discussing the need to create sex education policies that are based on science instead of politics. Young people ages 13 to 29 represent 39% of new infections, the largest percent of new infections among any age group. Of those infections, 89% of new infections are Black and Latino/a youth. Abstinence-only education is ineffective at reducing these disparities as science has found that it not only does not decrease HIV infections but actually increases the chance of HIV infections. To advocate for science based policy, McColl called to support an increase in DASH (Division of Adolescent School Health) funding, and an increase in the Teen Pregnancy Prevention Initiative. McColl also urged the ceasing of abstinence-only program funding.
To learn more about the events of AIDSWatch 2012, click here.