20th International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2014)

Personal Story

On Peer Syringe Exchange Delivery and on Working Together

July 21, 2014

Rafael Torruella

Intercambios Puerto Rico executive director Rafael Torruella at the 20th International AIDS Conference being held in Melbourne, Australia, this week. Intercambios PR, a program of Housing Works, is a community-based organization located in Fajardo, Puerto Rico; its services include harm reduction counseling and referrals to health and drug treatment services, and it operates one of the largest syringe exchange programs in Puerto Rico.

July 20, 2014, MELBOURNE, Australia -- Yesterday, after many hours of traveling, I arrived in Melbourne, Australia. Thirteen of us from Housing Works are here, along with hundreds of people from all over the world for the International AIDS Conference 2014 (AIDS 2014). We are here to learn, network, and let others know what we do in our day-to-day lives to fight AIDS, to add our voice to the thousands who look forward to and work towards the end of HIV/AIDS in our lifetime.

This morning, with only five hours of sleep from last night, still a bit jet-lagged, and trying to get my mind around the frequently mentioned death of many HIV/AIDS activists, researchers, and service providers traveling to this conference on Malaysia Airlines flight MH17, I grabbed my poster and walked in to the conference hall. I went directly to the location that I had been assigned over a month ago, PE310, and proceeded to hang the poster, which provides information about our harm reduction program in Puerto Rico.

The poster is entitled "Combining Two Peer Syringe Exchange Delivery Approaches in Puerto Rico." Like most other poster presentations here and elsewhere, it has a number of sections -- Background, Materials and Methods, Results, and Conclusions. In short, we, at Intercambios Puerto Rico, a program of Housing Works, compared two ways of providing sterile syringes and other injection equipment to hundreds of people who inject drugs (PWID) in Puerto Rico. Both approaches are effective with the presence of our amazing peer educators, Robert and Gerardo, but we wanted to know how one approach compared to the other and if they complement each other. The first is approach we used in our program is integrating one peer educator to the standard syringe exchange program mobile route. The second was simply having one peer educator go on his own to do syringe exchange without a staff member. Both peer syringe exchange delivery approaches worked, and based on the data we collected for five months and analyzed to present in the poster we now know that both approaches combined work better than one or the other alone.

So the data collected for the poster presentation confirmed what we already knew:

  1. that integrating peer educators to our harm reduction only makes it better and more fierce;
  2. that integrating multiple ways of preventing HIV/AIDS is better that just one;
  3. that working together -- as we are during this conference, sharing information and learning from others -- is better than working alone.

Many people have seen the poster thus far, and some had questions about what we do and how we do it.

I am simply happy to be here with the Housing Works crew representing the amazing work we do in New York City, Albany, Washington D.C., around the globe, and of course, in Puerto Rico.

Rafael Torruella is executive director of Intercambios Puerto Rico, a program of Housing Works.

This article was provided by Housing Works. It is a part of the publication Housing Works AIDS Issues Update. Visit Housing Works' website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.

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