Thursday, March 22, 2012

AIDS activists arrested at Rehberg's D.C. office

Posted By on Thu, Mar 22, 2012 at 7:57 AM

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A demonstration by AIDS activists Wednesday morning targeted Rep. Denny Rehberg of Montana and other congressmen for their role in "sneaking in" a federal ban on clean needle exchange programs. Ten activists were arrested outside Rehberg's office. Capitol Police put the total number of those arrested at 29; activist organizations say the number was actually 32.

The Huffington Post described the background of the demonstration:

Rehberg was targeted for his role as chair of the House Appropriations subcommittee on health and human services, where he led the effort to ban funding for needle exchange programs, adding it to a House spending bill that funded the federal government through fiscal year 2012...

The ban was originally adopted in 1989 but was finally lifted by Congress in 2009. Republicans lawmakers quietly slipped the ban back into their spending bill in December of last year.

In addition to Rehberg, activists targeted Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.) and House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio). There were also rallies in New York outside the offices of Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand. The groups taking credit for the demonstrations were Housing Works, Health Global Access Project and Citiwide Harm Reduction.

Activists are against the ban because studies show that clean needle programs help curb the spread of HIV and hepatitis C, and reduce the rate of new HIV infections among injection drug users by as much as 80 percent. The Huffington Post article also notes that additional research shows "syringe exchange programs do not increase the numbers of injection drug users and can further reduce long-term healthcare costs for people with HIV or hepatitis C."

Indy reporter Jessica Mayrer wrote a 2010 cover story about outreach workers across Montana working on HIV and hepatitis C prevention programs, and how drastic cuts to funding were affecting their efforts.

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