Anti-AIDS scheme jeopardised as police move in

By TARA PATEL in PARIS The French humanitarian organisation Medecins du Monde complained last week that the Paris police are sabotaging their three-year-old needle exchange programme, aimed at slowing the spread of HIV among injecting drug users. Jean-Pierre Lhomme, one of the doctors who runs the programme, said that the organisation has had reports during the past three years of police confiscating newly distributed syringes. But he says the police actions have intensified since the Interior Minister Paul Quiles announced a new anti-drug campaign last month. Medecins du Monde has been distributing needle kits in parts of Paris since 1989. Each kit contains two syringes, two condoms, two alcohol-dosed cotton swabs and a pamphlet signed by the Minister of Health explaining that the recipient is part of a programme aimed at preventing the spread of HIV. The organisation gave out 28 000 kits in the second half of 1992. Needle exchange schemes are widespread in Britain, Germany, Australia, Canada and the Netherlands and they exist in some states of the US. Public health officials in these countries argue that the spread of HIV will be reduced if people who inject drugs have access to clean needles. Less pragmatic governments argue against needle exchange schemes on the grounds that they tacitly condone the use of drugs. Lhomme said that on 12 January in a northern district of Paris, police not only took the kits from drug users but crushed them underfoot ‘while using violent obscenities to describe the programme’. The Paris police issued a statement last week saying that during the raid several people who were carrying drugs and syringes were arrested. ‘It is not surprising. . .that the syringes were confiscated,’ the statement says. It also says that police would never have been instructed to interfere with the work of Medecins du Monde without warning them. Lhomme says the police actions are jeopardising the trust that has been built up between injecting drug users and the organisation’s team. ‘This is not going to do anything to help the drug problem but will increase the number of AIDS cases,’ he said. According to Lhomme, there are about 150 000 injecting drug users in France, 40 per cent of whom are estimated to be HIV positive. He said 32 per cent of all AIDS cases in metropolitan Paris are injecting drug users. The latest statistics from the WHO show that France has more AIDS cases than any other country in Europe. France registered 21 487 last December. Britain has 6510. Writing in the French daily Le Monde earlier this month, Quiles said that he supported needle exchange programmes and does not think anti-drug campaigns should work to the detriment of the fight against AIDS. The French government came under heavy criticism from AIDS workers this month. Claude Olievenstein, head of the drug treatment centre at Marmottan in Paris,
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