AIDS infections up, funding down, say advocates

Published January 1, 2005

Dan Davis cries at a World AIDS Day event in Chicago Dec. 1 as he looks at a section of the AIDS quilt memorializing his companion Bill Harrison who died in 1995. Health care advocates in the U.S. are facing decreased funding for HIV/AIDS treatment and medication.

Los Angeles

Across the United States, as health care advocates observed World AIDS Day Dec. 1, they were also facing such hard realities as fewer funding dollars, growing infection rates, and increased public apathy.

In Houston, state cuts in funding for HIV/AIDS medications went into effect Dec. 1, and could not have happened at a worse time, said Patrick Wright, chair of the Episcopal (Anglican) diocese of Texas’ Commission on AIDS Ministries.

In Southern California’s Orange County, the non-sectarian AIDS Service Foundation (ASF) experienced a $686,000 US cut in federal funds from its 2004 budget and expects additional cuts next year. In the meantime, the agency has turned for help to local churches and other funding sources. But current needs far exceed contributions and grants, said Canon Jack Plimpton, director of the Bishop’s Commission on AIDS Ministry in the diocese of Los Angeles.In New York, Rev. Rand Frew said federal dollars are not the only funds dwindling: donations are scarce all over, including among church organizations and private sources.

Mr. Frew, whose agency, AIDS Action International, serves New York, Florida, Nevada and the Philippines, echoed a common theme: public apathy as one of the most difficult challenges to AIDS ministry.

“People are surprised when I tell them I’m still working in HIV,” said Mr. Frew. “Some say, ‘I thought that was taken care of by now.'”

AIDS infections are on the rise, particularly among women and people of colour. The Kaiser Family Foundation estimates that nearly one million people in the United States are living with HIV/AIDS and about 500,000 have died from the disease. A significant proportion of them are not receiving regular HIV care. Globally, an estimated 39.4 million people are living with HIV/AIDS.

Federal dollars are tightening for domestic care, say activists like Ty Rose, director of annual giving for the AIDS Service Foundation (ASF) of Orange County, Calif. ASF was not the only agency that lost money last year. The Bush administration cut San Francisco’s federal AIDS budget by $4 million, a 12 per cent decrease.

Mr. Rose said the agency continues to see an increase in infections, particularly among youth, adults over 50 and Latinas. More devastating is the lack of awareness about the disease, he said.

“AIDS used to be on the front page of the newspaper, now it’s buried somewhere in section B under the big-screen TV ads,” Mr. Rose said. “There are a large number of people who assume that there’s medication so there’s a cure or you can live with it. There’s a general apathy.”


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