Trenton- World AIDS Day events involving millions of people around the globe will occur on Friday, December 1st. World AIDS Day is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV/AIDS. The day is considered one of the most widely recognized international observances set by the United Nations. The global theme for World AIDS Day 2006 is “Accountability,” with the slogan: “Stop AIDS. Keep the Promise.”
Moving forward with the World AIDS Day theme, activists in New Jersey are urging government action and accountability concerning the fight against HIV/AIDS in the state.
“For thirteen years now the New Jersey legislature has been considering sterile syringe access legislation–yet we still have no action,” said Roseanne Scotti, Director of the Drug Policy Alliance New Jersey. “We have lost 15,000 people to dirty needles. Fifteen thousand more are living with HIV/AIDS they got from dirty needles. How many more have to die before the state acts?”
Life-saving legislation aimed at preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis C and other blood borne diseases is now pending before the New Jersey State Legislature. Senate Bills 494 and 823 and their companion bills in the General Assembly, Assembly Bills 1852 and 2839, would prevent the spread of HIV and other blood borne diseases by allowing municipalities (at no cost to the state) to establish syringe access programs and permitting the sale of limited numbers of syringes without prescriptions in pharmacies.
New Jersey advocates expressed frustration and anger at the lack of progress on the legislation, and the fact that New Jersey is now falling behind even some developing countries when it comes to HIV prevention among injection drug users.
“Countries like China, Iran and the former Soviet Block countries are beginning to implement sterile syringe access programs to protect their communities and here in New Jersey we’re doing nothing. It is outrageous that New Jersey‘s HIV prevention policy is falling behind that of poor developing countries,” said Ronald Cash, Health Officer for Atlantic City. Cash also referenced Helen Keller, “All the world is full of suffering. It is also full of overcoming.”
“If syringe access legislation is passed in New Jersey, the state would overcome a lot of suffering,” Cash added.
New Jersey has the fifth-highest number of adult HIV cases, the third-highest number of pediatric HIV cases and the highest proportion of HIV infections among women in the nation. Most striking, the state’s rate of HIV infection related to the sharing of contaminated syringes is twice the national average. More than 22,000 children have been orphaned by losing parents to HIV/AIDS.
Several significant landmarks have increased the significance of World AIDS Day this year:
- 2006 is the 25th anniversary of the emergence of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. More than 25 million people worldwide have died of HIV/AIDS-related causes since 1981. In New Jersey, there have been more than 60,000 reported HIV cases and more than 30,000 people have died from HIV/AIDS.
- “The Lifetime Cost of Current HIV Care in the United States,” a major new study appearing in the November 2006 issue of Medical Care, projects the cost of treatment for HIV-infected adults is now $618,900 per person, a significant increase from previous estimates. Given the estimated lifetime cost of care for someone living with HIV, New Jersey and other states have spent, and will continue to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on medical costs to treat HIV infections. Many infections, (45 percent in New Jersey) related to the sharing of contaminated syringes, could have been prevented by access to sterile syringes. Advocates say the new study emphasizes the critical need for effective and cost efficient prevention methods such as syringe exchange and non-prescription sale of syringes in pharmacies.
- The National Minority AIDS Council released a report this month decrying the continued overrepresentation of African Americans among those living with HIV/AIDS and calling for a bold new strategy to fight HIV/AIDS in the community–including expanded access to sterile syringes to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS by the sharing of contaminated syringes.