Stan Wong leads the global HIV/AIDS grantmaking/program strategy for the Levi Strauss Foundation.
The Levi Strauss Foundation has been steadfast in our support of the Syringe Access Fund since we joined forces with a number of peer funders to launch it in 2004. Fourteen years later, in the midst of the opioid crisis, the fund remains as relevant and timely as ever – and we continue to champion its work, with a $250,000 donation last year (our 10th grant to the fund).
At the time that the fund was started, HIV was spreading at an alarming rate among people who inject drugs, and using shared needles. Despite being highly controversial, programs that provided access to sterile syringes (usually in exchange for used ones) were scientifically proven to be effective at preventing infection by blood-borne diseases, such as HIV and hepatitis C. We believed the right thing to do—investing in proven and effective solutions—outweighed the risks of potential backlash.
Not only do these programs reduce the risk of new infections, they also reduce the risks of “accidental sticks” to sanitation workers, police and community members, and provide a doorway for drug users to access treatment and other social services.
During the last decade, the number of new HIV diagnoses among people who inject drugs in the U.S. have decreased by nearly half. But this progress against the HIV epidemic has eroded in recent years due to the prominence of the opioid epidemic, which affects nearly every community in the U.S. We are seeing spikes in new transmission of HIV and hepatitis C due to sharing of contaminated needles, giving rise to the stark reality of an “epidemic within an epidemic.” Despite the fierce urgency now, the vast majority of syringe access programs still operate with little investment or support. And the speed and intensity of the epidemics are outstripping the already limited resources available.
The Syringe Access Fund has been on the front lines of both the HIV/AIDS and opioid epidemics. Cumulatively, it has distributed over $17.7 million in support of direct services and vital advocacy through 150 organizations in 32 states. The fund’s tireless and sustained advocacy efforts helped repeal the decades-long ban prohibiting the use of federal funds for syringe access programs, which lasted from 1988 until the end of 2015. A study issued in 1997 estimated that while the funding ban was in effect, it “may have led to HIV infection among thousands of [injecting drug users], their sexual partners, and their children.”
The fund continues to be on the front lines. It is driving policy change in several states to pass laws explicitly authorizing syringe access programs, to reform statutes that are barriers to these programs, or to remove syringes from the list of drug paraphernalia. It is advocating with state and local government, politicians, and stakeholders to unlock more resources and funding for these programs. It is working to ensure that people who want help can get the help they need and that no one is left behind.
That’s why we continue to support the Syringe Access Fund. It’s one more way that we put our values into action, and live up to our company-wide commitment to doing what’s right rather than what’s easy.
Learn more about the Syringe Access Fund, or donate.