Harm Reduction

Harm reduction, in its simplest form, means meeting individuals “where they’re at” in order to change behaviors that have negative physical and mental health consequences. Harm reduction approaches to substance use are not strictly abstinence-oriented.  Rather, they encourage individuals to examine the connections between their substance use and their health and well-being, and to take steps toward any positive change.

The role of San Francisco AIDS Foundation is to translate science—the evidence of harm reduction’s effectiveness for averting HIV infections—to advocacy for legislation around harm reduction approaches to HIV prevention. Chief among these is access to sterile syringes.

Syringe Access

Sharing used syringes is one of the most efficient routes of HIV transmission and contributes to high HIV incidence around the world.  Roughly 10% of all new HIV infections globally result from needle sharing. Syringe access is one of the best-known, demonstrated-effective harm reduction approaches to HIV prevention and has not been shown to increase injection drug use.

The foundation provides leadership at the state and federal levels to ensure the legality of syringe access programs and to facilitate the purchase of sterile syringes at pharmacies.  Our advocacy work gets results.  For example, in December of 2009 San Francisco AIDS Foundation and other harm reduction advocates successfully lobbied congress to rescind the ban on federal funding of syringe access programs. 

While the lifting of the ban is good news for HIV prevention, to date no guidance has been provided for the use of federal funds for syringe access. San Francisco AIDS Foundation is now advocating for effective implementation of federal support for syringe access programs, and for the continued availability of federal monies for these life-saving programs.

Other Harm Reduction Areas

San Francisco AIDS Foundation is a leader in advocating for and implementing harm reduction for HIV prevention in areas beyond syringe access. Visit the HIV Prevention Project, Tweaker.org, the Stonewall Project, and the Speed Project online to learn more about San Francisco AIDS Foundation’s harm reduction programs for clients. Download a summary or listen to an audio recording from our public forum, “Sex, Drugs & HIV: A User’s Guide to Harm Reduction,” at the HIVision page.


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