The NAACP, the National Urban League and other advocacy groups on Thursday, which also is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, called on Congress to repeal a 20-year-old ban on federal funding for needle-exchange programs, the AP/Seattle Times reports.
Injection drug use contributes to one-third of new HIV cases in the U.S., and it accounts for a higher proportion of HIV cases among blacks compared with whites, according to the AP/Times. According to federal figures, blacks comprised 13% of the U.S. population but accounted for about half of new HIV/AIDS cases in 2005.
Despite the ban on federal funding, more than 200 needle-exchange programs have been established nationwide -- including in Washington, D.C., and New Jersey -- in an effort to reduce the spread of HIV among injection drug users, according to the AP/Times.
However, some advocates say the federal ban on needle-exchange programs leaves many of the programs in unstable financial situations, making local and state officials reluctant to support needle exchanges, the AP/Times reports.
According to Daniel Raymond, policy director for the Harm Reduction Coalition, there are about one million IDUs in the U.S., and less than 20% of them use needle-exchange programs. "There's a huge unmet need," he said, adding, "Even in places where there are programs, they can't always meet the demand."
Those who oppose needle exchanges question the programs' health benefits and ability to rehabilitate drug users, the AP/Times reports. David Murray, chief scientist with the Office of National Drug Control Policy, said he supports drug-related programs aimed directly at ending addiction.
"Needles are not the magic bullet," Murray said, adding, "We are being politically pressured to make this decision (in favor of needle exchange). But it's time to rethink if there's a more humane, effective public health response than continuing to support injection drug use."
Anthony Fauci, director of NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Wednesday said that he supports needle-exchange programs. In a separate statement, Fauci said the high rates of HIV/AIDS among blacks require "drastic action." He added, "In particular, black leaders -- religious, secular and political -- have a key role to play in reducing the stigma often associated with HIV/AIDS and influencing African-Americans to get tested, counseled and treated".
In related news, several celebrities and advocates have joined together to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS among blacks on the awareness day, the Miami Herald reports. The celebrities include actresses Tatyana Ali, Angela Basset, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Theresa Randle, Angel Moore, Tracie Thomas and Gina Ravera; the Rev. Creflo Dollar; NFL coach Tony Dungy; actor Sydney Poitier; singer Patti LaBelle; retired Gen. Colin Powell; and political commentator Tavis Smiley. "I encourage everyone to make Feb. 7 the day you get educated about HIV and a day when you talk to others, your family members, your friends and your partners about HIV," Kevin Fenton, director of CDC's National Center for HIV, STD and TB Prevention.
Source: Kaiser Family Foundation