On National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, February 7, the NAACP, the National Urban League and other black advocacy groups convened to rally for an end to the 20-year ban on federally funded needle-exchange programs, reports The Seattle Times (seattletimes.com, 2/7). The groups say that lifting the ban would lower overall HIV infections among African Americans, who make up 13 percent of the country’s population but account for half of new HIV infections each year.

While more than 200 regional needle-exchange programs are currently operating in the U.S., none have received federal funding since 1988.

“[Needle-exchange programs] do not encourage drug use,” Rep. Barbara Lee of California told the Times. “These programs are the way you really reach these drug users and help them end their addiction.”

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have both said that they will end the ban on federal funding for needle exchanges if elected president. Republican front-runner John McCain hasn’t stated his position on the matter.