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Thursday, July 15, 2010

President Launches New HIV/AIDS Strategy

More Funding Needed?

In the United States, approximately 56,000 people become infected with HIV each year, and more than 1.1 million Americans are living with HIV. To combat this growing epidemic, the White House released the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) and accompanying NHAS Federal Implementation Plan.

The new strategy, the White House says, is designed to reduce the amount of HIV and AID cases, as well as provide funding for medical care for those already afflicted with the disease.

Since the inception of the AIDS virus some 30 years ago, today's estimates show that every nine (9) seconds someone in the U.S. is diagnosed with AIDS, despite prevention awareness and advances in HIV/AIDS medication.

In the announcement in the White House's Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebilius and White House Domestic Policy Advisor Melody Barnes outlined the new strategy that the administration says is three-fold will: 1) focus on prevention, 2) treatment, and 3) reducing health disparities where the need is greatest.

Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebilius with Dr. Howard Koh (Assistant Secretary for Health (far left)), Jeff Crowley (National AIDS Policy), and White House Domestic Policy Advisor Melody Barnes.  Photo/CD Brown.

“We can’t afford complacency", said Sebilius. "Not when in the ten minutes I’ve been talking to you, another American has just contracted HIV. “That’s why our strategy calls for aggressive efforts to educate Americans about how dangerous this disease still is and the steps they can take to protect themselves and their loved ones.”

The administration has committed to providing $30 million from the Affordable Care Act’s Prevention Fund in its efforts - an amount that some - including communications director of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation Ged Kenslea say falls way below the mark. 

"The strategy is to test, and treat", said Kenslea.  "But there's not funding put forth.  They're going to be pulling from some states to put money in other states.  What they really need to do is appropriate more funding."

Kenslea who held a press conference at the National Press Club directly following the White House announcement, told us that while he disagrees with the amount of funding being provided, he says the overall strategy is wise.

"Many of elements of the strategy are very prudent, are very wise.  But it's got to backed up with resources to do that. 

In an address in the East Room of the White House later that day, President Obama addressed an audience where he acknowledged such cuts.

"Now, I know that this strategy comes at a difficult time for Americans living with HIV/AIDS, because we’ve got cash-strapped states who are being forced to cut back on essentials, including assistance for AIDS drugs. I know the need is great. And that’s why we’ve increased federal assistance each year that I’ve been in office, providing an emergency supplement this year to help people get the drugs they need, even as we pursue a national strategy that focuses on three central goals."

South Carolina, is one of those states hit hard by budget cuts, making it difficult for many AIDS patients to receive access to medications. 

Kenslea said that states like both South Carolina and Florida (ranked third in highest AIDS cases, with D.C. ranking the highest in AIDS related cases) have well over 2200 people who are waiting lists for life-saving drug treatment and says the $25 million dollars proposed in the strategy will roughly cover those 2200 people alone.

"That money is already out the window", Kenslea.  "That money will barely get those people off the list."

Congresswoman Donna Christensen while citing that having a national AIDS strategy has long been overdue,  says "Congress is really going to have to step up the plate, though, and provide adequate funding if we're really going to meet the goals laid out here." 

HousingWorks CEO, Charles King (center).  Photo/CD Brown.

HousingWorks CEO, Charles King, who interrupted President Obama during his speech, called the strategy "flawed", and "a step backwards in combating HIV and AIDS in the United States."

"I am astonished that, after 15 months of intensive study by his administration, the President believes that the U.S. is only capable of reducing annual HIV infections by 25 percent", said King.  "Would President Obama suggest that we only clean up 25 percent of the Gulf oil spill? Never."

King says the U.S. has the tools to prevent the virus dramatically with more resources.  "This report does a disservice to America's young people and people of color, who are most at risk."

ADAP Watch
National AIDS Strategy Info

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