On August 29, at Harris United Methodist Church, HHHRC hosted members of the community and distinguished guests who were instrumental in establishing the nation’s first statewide syringe exchange to cut the spread of HIV/AIDS among persons who inject drugs in 1989.
“Hawaiʿi was very fortunate to have forward-looking, compassionate public leadership that looked to proactively save lives by curbing the spread of HIV through the statewide provision of sterile syringes. Hawaiʿi remains fortunate to have an ongoing public commitment to health strategies that reduce rates of preventable disease transmission and death among vulnerable populations,” said HHHRC Executive Director Heather Lusk, who began working in syringe access at the height of the AIDS crisis in Northern California.
The program opened with a short film from local director Alexander Bocchieri that looked at the history and ongoing impact of syringe exchange in Hawaiʿi. The film featured many who were on a subsequent panel discussion: Peter Whiticar of Hawaiʿi State Department of Health (DOH) Harm Reduction Services Branch; former State Sen. Suzanne Chun-Oakland; Nancy Kern, who began 25 years at DOH with the Governor’s Committee on AIDS; Pam Lichty, Co-Founder of Drug Policy Forum of Hawaiʿi; Joe Thompson, HHHRC’s Maui-based outreach specialist; and HHHRC Operations Director Kavika Puahi.
Whiticar encouraged those present to think about ways that Hawaii could again be at the leading edge of far-reaching public health policy.