WEDNESDAY, Oct. 30, 2019 (HealthDay News) — A syringe exchange program (SEP) has averted thousands of injection drug use (IDU)-associated HIV diagnoses over 10 years in Philadelphia and Baltimore, according to a study published in the Dec. 1 issue of the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.

Monica S. Ruiz, Ph.D., M.P.H., from the Milken Institute School of Public Health at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and colleagues used surveillance data from Philadelphia (1984 to 2015) and Baltimore (1985 to 2013) to measure the impact of policy change. The number of expected HIV diagnoses was forecast per city if the policy had not changed; to estimate the averted HIV diagnoses, the number was compared to the observed diagnoses after policy change.

The researchers found that the Philadelphia model (1993 to 2002) predicted 15,248 new IDU-associated HIV diagnoses compared with 4,656 observed diagnoses, representing 10,592 averted diagnoses over 10 years. For Baltimore (1995 to 2004), 7,263 IDU-associated HIV diagnoses were predicted compared with 5,372 observed diagnoses, representing 1,891 averted diagnoses. The one-year return on investment on SEPs remained high ($183 million in Philadelphia and $32 million in Baltimore) considering program expenses and conservative estimates of public sector savings.

“Giving injection drug users access to clean syringes can not only help them avoid HIV but often helps them obtain other health services, including access to drug treatment programs,” Ruiz said in a statement. “Such programs offer communities huge public health and societal benefits, including a reduction in new HIV cases and cost savings to publicly-funded HIV care.”

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