Indiana News

Officials: Inadequate public health system contributed to HIV outbreak

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) – An inadequate public health system, that’s what officials from Scott County said is contributing to an HIV outbreak in that county and surrounding counties. So, Wednesday they and others asked the House Public Health Committee to launch an emergency needle distribution and collection program.

According to the State Department of Health, there are 60 confirmed cases and 16 preliminary cases of HIV that have originated in Scott County and that number is only expected to grow. They – among others – are asking for an amendment to Senate Bill 461 to allow for this needle exchange because they say something needs to be done to help – and the sooner the better.

Dr. Jennifer Walthall, Deputy State Health Commissioner, called the growing number of HIV cases in Scott County an “epidemic” that should be alarming to everyone.

Rep. Ed Clere (R-New Albany), the bills’ sponsor, said the amendment “does not spend state money or state resources” and the only connection to the state is that any qualified program would have to register with IDHS and the county health department in the county were services would be provided.

“This is not a new concept – it has been around in the U.S. for two decades,” Clere said. “There are more than 200 programs operating around the country – we would not be doing something new.”

The amendment also:

  • Lowers legal barriers to providing needles
  • Addresses the paraphernalia issue
  • Initiates a needed distribution and collection program
  • Outlines who would be able to have programs

Clere said the primary objective is “harm reduction.” The amendment also outlines the number of needles that could be distributed. An individual could receive 10 needles or up to the number they bring in for collection.

No vote was taken on the amendment. Clere said it could happen Monday or next Wednesday.

In the meantime, the IDHS has launched a public awareness campaign in an attempt to combat the growing HIV issue. It’s called “You are not Alone”and among its focuses – needle disposal and HIV testing and treatment.