January 11, 2012
The second of a two-part series about the stories to keep your eyes on during 2012. To read the first five stories covered in Part 1, go here.
A significant uptick in activity is taking place among Black organizations doing grassroots organizing to end the Black HIV/AIDS epidemic. Building on the work of Act Against AIDS and other initiatives, groups such as the Black Treatment Advocates Network, Black Gay Men's Network, National Black Gay Men's Advocacy Coalition and National Black Justice Coalition are mobilizing communities nationwide. With marketing campaigns such as Testing Makes Us Stronger, which reaches out to Black gay and bisexual men, and Keep It 100, which targets heterosexual brothers in New York City, rolling out, change is in the air.
What to watch: We applaud these much-needed efforts. At the same time, Black people must advance beyond conversations about getting tested. If we miss the opportunity to take advantage of the biomedical breakthroughs that could end the epidemic, we will be left behind again.
Over the past year, several clinical trials have proved pre-exposure prophylaxis's (PrEP) effectiveness for heterosexual couples as well as gay and bisexual men. While some experts advocate rolling PrEP out to MSM as soon as possible, critics question whether HIV-negative people will adhere to the daily regimen and if it is right to provide meds to HIV-negative people when folks who already have HIV can't access antiretroviral drugs.
What to watch: The New York Times reports that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) will run pilot studies in San Francisco and Miami involving 500 HIV-negative MSM. Researchers need to recruit sufficient numbers of Black men, and particularly young men, who are most at risk and could benefit most once the intervention is scaled.
As if the impact of the economic recession weren't bad enough, the political game of budget "chicken" drags on, with budgets for AIDS-related services hanging in the balance. Last year H.R 1 would have cut millions of dollars from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), NIH, family planning, and maternal-and child-care health block grants, just to name a few.
The threat lingers. In an effort to use scarce resources efficiently, the CDC is shifting money from states with lower HIV rates, such as Massachusetts, to "follow the epidemic" to states and communities where rates are high or increasing. Also, the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) gap continues to grow, and the waiting list is now above 4,000.
What to watch: On World AIDS day, President Obama directed the Department of Health and Human Services to invest $35 million in ADAP and another $15 million to increase access to care services. These much-needed economic stopgap measures complement long-term structural investments in progress to end the epidemic.
The rollout of health insurance reform continues, but legal challenges and obstructionists abound. The "individual mandate," which requires all citizens to purchase individual health care by 2014 or face financial penalties, will experience the largest battle, with 26 states contesting it.
What to watch: In March the Supreme Court hears oral arguments about the individual mandate. If it is ruled unconstitutional, the entire ACA could be struck down. Meanwhile, the administration takes on racial disparities in health this year, a process bound to flush even more racists out of the closet.
Are spit and semen deadly weapons? In some states, unfortunately, the answer is yes -- but only if you have HIV. In 2011 the debate about the criminalization of HIV escalated as heavy jail sentences were handed down for incidents of biting, spitting and nondisclosure.
What to watch: In 2011 Congresswoman Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) introduced the REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act to protect people with HIV from unfair criminal and civil laws that hark back to the Stone Age. But in this political climate, don't hold your breath while waiting for it to pass.