May 15, 2012
Nationwide cuts to HIV/AIDS programs funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) continue to strike the wrong chord. In January, Georgia's health department had to cut 26 HIV prevention jobs, including 20 from the regional health districts across the state that provide services to about half of the state's 42,000 people living with HIV. These particular cuts came after the CDC's decision to refocus its efforts in the 10 areas of the U.S. with the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence.
Now Massachusetts' county jails are facing the music.
Federal cuts reduced Massachusetts' overall HIV/AIDS prevention budget to $4.3 million, forcing the state to slash $1.25 million from the county jail budget for HIV testing and education. According to The Boston Globe, that will eliminate staff members who educate inmates about HIV, cut HIV testing, and hinder follow-up care for those who test positive in county jails, which are seen as a unique venue for transmission between people who are at risk:
Jails and houses of correction, where inmates serve no more than two years and turnover is much higher than in state prisons, have long been regarded as crucial venues for introducing prevention and testing.
As inmates return to the community, knowing their HIV status and how to protect themselves from catching or spreading the virus can break the chain of transmission, according to AIDS prevention advocates.
Many inmates are drug-addicted and some have been exposed to the virus by sharing dirty needles and yet are unaware they could be infected. The threat of being exposed is compounded by the risk of unprotected sexual activity within jails and houses of correction.
Bristol County Sheriff Thomas M. Hodgson believes that these cuts could worsen the state's overall public health:
"I'm very concerned. Our clientele are people who are in for a much shorter amount of time. They're going to be going back into the community. We want them to be tested for HIV because they need to be aware if they have it, and, number two, how to manage it."
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