Groups Seek Repeal of Ban on Federal Funding for Needle-Exchange Programs; Campaign Coincides With National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
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" (Crary, AP/Seattle Times, 2/6).
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, said (Miami Herald, 2/5).
Newspapers recently published opinion pieces to mark National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. Summaries appear below.
- Bob Johnson, Louisiana Weekly: "In these times, when HIV/AIDS is the fourth leading cause of death worldwide, individuals from all walks of life must come together to confront the crisis," Johnson -- founder and CEO of RLJ Companies and founder of BET -- writes in a Weekly opinion piece. He adds, "We must act immediately to establish an honest dialogue within the black community regarding persistently high rates of infection, high rates of death, attitudes that blame those who are infected rather than support them and how we can come together to move toward positive change" (Johnson, Louisiana Weekly, 2/4).
- Sen. Frederica Wilson, Miami Herald: The response to HIV/AIDS in the black community is "far from proportionate" to the number of black people living in the U.S. for "a variety of economic and cultural reasons," Florida state Sen. Wilson (D) writes in a Herald opinion piece. She adds that the disease is a "problem that needs to be, and is being, addressed through long-term improvements in economic conditions, as well as in attitudes and culture." According to Wilson, one of the "surest and quickest ways" to fight the "scourge" of HIV/AIDS in the state's black community is to increase testing (Wilson, Miami Herald, 2/7).
- James Loyce, Adrian Tyler and Malik Russell, San Francisco Chronicle: While HIV/AIDS "decimates" the black community, the U.S. has "failed to implement a national health policy that addresses how this disease is spread," Loyce -- executive director for the Black Coalition on AIDS -- Tyler -- director of development and communications for BCA -- and Russell -- communications coordinator for the Harm Reduction Coalition -- write in a Chronicle opinion piece. The writers add that "[n]owhere is this discrepancy as great as over the issue" of needle-exchange programs. Needle exchanges are a "viable means" of slowing the spread of HIV, they write, adding, "Unfortunately, for nearly 20 years Congress has maintained a no-longer-rational ban on the use of federal dollars" for such programs. "Removing the federal ban" on needle-exchange programs "makes sense economically, politically and morally," they write, concluding, "Better policy must not be strangled by Beltway politics -- after all, we are talking about people's lives" (Loyce et al., San Francisco Chronicle, 2/7).
- Florida: The Florida Department of Health is partnering with community-based groups and leaders statewide to recognize the awareness day. Events include activities in Tallahassee and Miami-Dade County (Department of Health release, 2/6).
- Kansas: Several events will be held throughout the state to recognize the awareness day, including a youth summit sponsored by the Topeka AIDS Project; the re-establishment of quarterly meetings by the Douglas County AIDS Project; an informational booth hosted by the United Methodist Mexican-American Ministries; and no-cost, rapid HIV tests offered by the Reno County Health Department (Kansas Department of Health and Environment release, 2/5).
- Kentucky: Advocates, health care providers and leaders are calling on communities in the state to increase their efforts to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS among blacks and promote counseling and testing. In addition, several events and observances are planned to recognize the awareness day throughout Kentucky (Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services release, 2/6).
- Minnesota: The Minnesota AIDS Project AIDSLine offers statewide information and referrals, education, risk assessments and testing. The group also provides community resources and prevention programs aimed at black and African populations (Minnesota AIDS Project release, 2/5).
- Oklahoma: The state this year will host events in 100 cities, including an event hosted by the Oklahoma City HIV/AIDS Community Awareness Project. Many of the city's black leaders and organizations will participate in events to mark the awareness day (Oklahoma Department of Health release, 2/4).
- Washington, D.C.: Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.), Mayor Adrian Fenty, the Washington Wizards and Verizon Washington, D.C., have joined the Test for Life campaign to promote and provide no-cost HIV testing events in the city. Television and radio public service announcements will be launched to inform district residents about no-cost testing events throughout February (Test for Life release, 2/5).
HHS: John Agwunobi, HHS assistant secretary for health, said, "AIDS continues to have a devastating effect on black communities, taking many lives ... This is not acceptable." To fight the disease, leadership is needed from black communities, including faith and civic leaders, health professionals, educators and families, Agwunobi said. He added, "We can stop HIV/AIDS," but to "do so, we need leaders who will educate others about the importance of being tested and the devastating effects of the disease" (HHS release, 2/5).
Office of Minority Health: Garth Graham, head of HHS' OMH, said he believes the silence and stigma surrounding HIV/AIDS in the black community remain significant barriers to HIV prevention, testing and treatment. "Without a vaccine or a cure, prevention and other positive public health messages -- such as the ABC approach to HIV prevention, which stands for abstinence, be faithful and use condoms -- are the "only real hope of stopping the spread of HIV," Graham said. He added, "We need to make sure we respond to the rise in the rate of new HIV infections aggressively and effectively -- before it's too late to stop it" (OMH release, 1/30).
- The AIDS Foundation of Chicago has unveiled a set of resources and tools created specifically to assist black churches to start a dialogue about HIV/AIDS in their communities and with their church members. The toolkit includes a training manual to help churches create HIV/AIDS ministries, fact sheets about the disease and information about how to combat stigma related to HIV/AIDS (AFC release, 2/4).
- BET in partnership with the Kaiser Family Foundation recently announced that it will air a special program about HIV/AIDS on Thursday at 8:00 PM ET/PT. The 30-minute program, called "Stigma: The Silent Killer," will examine the issue of HIV-related stigma from multiple perspectives. It will explore the challenges faced by blacks living with HIV/AIDS, as well as the impact of stigma on prevention efforts. The show also will examine HIV prevalence in black communities and how religious leaders have responded to the virus. The show will highlight the role that media have taken to address the epidemic and will feature personal interviews with political and religious leaders, public health experts, entertainers and people affected by HIV/AIDS. The program is part of BET and the Kaiser Family Foundation's Rap-It-Up partnership (BET/Kaiser Family Foundation release, 1/30).
- The National Minority AIDS Council recently launched a new Web site that includes news, a calendar of events, grant deadlines and downloads related to HIV/AIDS (NMAC release, 2/5).
- "Black AIDS Awareness Pushed" (Brown, Albany Herald, 2/3).
- "Free HIV Testing Offered Downtown" (Pittman, Amarillo Globe-News, 2/5).
- "AIDS Awareness Events, Testing Set for Thursday" (Kraft, Arizona Daily Star, 2/4).
- "Black HIV/AIDS Day Thurs." (Bridgeton News, 2/5).
- "Blacks More Likely To Get HIV/AIDS" (Charleston Post and Courier, 2/7).
- "Event Brings HIV/AIDS Awareness to Local Black Community" (Putnam, Charlotte Sun-Herald, 1/31).
- "Chicago To Mark Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day" (Chicago Tribune, 2/7).
- "Free HIV Test Focus on Blacks, Hispanics" (Geggis, Daytona Beach News-Journal, 2/4).
- "Play About HIV/AIDS Presented in Braden" (Lasseigne, Daily Vidette, 2/6).
- "Spreading Epidemic" (Andyshak, Frederick News-Post, 2/5).
- "'Prevention is Power' on Black HIV/AIDS Day" (Gleaton, Orangebury Times and Democrat, 2/6).
- "Local Group To Mark Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day Tonight" (Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 2/7).
- "State Health Officials Note Racial Disparities in HIV/AIDS" (AP/Richmond Times-Dispatch, 2/4).
- "Activists To Discuss HIV Prevention Among African-Americans" (Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, 2/5).