Sometimes, less is more. For HIV prevention programs, this is truly the case in needle exchange programs. One simple idea, in concept and execution, has saved one city millions of dollars and has prevented over 100 new cases of HIV in just two short years.

The needle exchange program is one of the easiest ways to help prevent HIV (and other viral infection) outbreaks and new cases in general. Along with that, it is by far one of the most cost effective tools on the war front against AIDS today. The program’s success is also helping in the ongoing debate over program funding. One study has put that success into numbers.

Simple idea, big results – that sums up the program. Basically, patients who need prescription medications that are administered via needles must return their used needles before they are given their next doses. For a while, the government aided in the funding for these and similar programs. Congress placed a ban on programs such as this in 1998. The ban prohibited the use of federal funds for needle exchange programs. States and their cities were, of course, allowed to use their own funds to support the programs, but many were unable to do so.

In late 2007, this ban was lifted in DC. Almost immediately, the Department of Health reinstituted the needle exchange program and programs for HIV testing, plus programs for aid addiction treatment. Once the ban lifted and the programs went into effect, researchers began to track the programs’ progress.

When comparing the numbers, from those during the ban to those after, impressive results were seen. The team first determined how many new injection drug use (IDU) cases presenting with HIV has occurred. Using the information they had gathered, an estimated 296 cases of HIV would have presented during two more years of the program funding ban. This is compared to the 176 injection drug users who did become infected with HIV with the programs in effect. Lifting the ban saved over 100 people from possibly contracting HIV in just two short years! There are financial benefits as well. Treatment for 120 people would have cost millions. It is estimated that taxpayers saved $44.3 million.

DC is not the only area benefiting from these types of programs. Regions across the US are reporting similar results.