August 16, 2011
On Friday, the state Department of Public Health informed community health agencies of a $4.3 million reduction in AIDS prevention funding -- roughly one-quarter of the annual Massachusetts HIV prevention budget. As part of a national strategy shifting funding from states with lower HIV infection rates to those with high or increasing rates, federal AIDS prevention money to the state is being cut 50 percent during five years.
In response to a new federal requirement, the state must move money from community-based prevention programs to clinic-based testing and programs for those already infected. The biggest reduction, $2.3 million, must be taken by January. The state is immediately cutting $1 million from contacts with community agencies, said Kevin Cranston, director of the state Bureau of Infectious Disease.
Service reductions include free condom distribution to schools, colleges, and health facilities, as well as syringe-exchange programs, Cranston said. Eliminated programs include one that sends counselors to venues frequented by men who have sex with men, media to promote HIV testing and prevention programs, and training for community case managers.
Fenway Health, which recently played a key role in a major study of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis, will lose about 20 percent of its AIDS prevention funding. The state's only HIV hotline, operated for 25 years by AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, will likely cease operations, said President and CEO Rebecca Haag.
Over the past decade, Massachusetts has cut new HIV diagnoses from about 1,000 annually to fewer than 500, said Cranston, who worries that the federal strategy will weaken efforts to reduce incidence among high-risk groups.
"Well-trained staff in the field, good information, as well as direct services for HIV-negative and -positive people, together, have given us the success this past decade," Cranston said. "I would hate to see a resurgence of HIV in Massachusetts after being so successful this decade."