April 19, 2002
Metrowest AIDS program and the regional AIDS consortium OnTRAC are dipping into their emergency coffers to reestablish an anonymous testing and counseling program in Framingham, Mass. -- the absence of which, advocates say, can be measured in human lives lost. In November, the state legislature cut from the budget $12.2 million for AIDS education and services, which eliminated Framingham's free program. After a four-month gap in services, the two AIDS agencies put together a slimmed-down version, which will begin Wednesday.
The state's 24 percent reduction of the AIDS budget has forced agencies to shuffle money and seek private funding to maintain services for what they call a life or death matter. Metrowest and OnTRAC moved a combined $4,000 from their emergency funds -- which are typically used to purchase medicine for clients or pay for funeral arrangements -- to support the Framingham program. "If we do not provide anonymous testing and counseling, people will not get care and continue to spread the disease," said Kevin McNamara, director of Metrowest, where the anonymous testing takes place.
Although McNamara has secured enough money to fund the services through December, he said he is concerned about the program's prospects after that. McNamara said he does not expect state money for fiscal year 2003 and will have to rely solely on private resources. "Anonymous testing and counseling is a critical way to get people to evaluate their behavior and get the proper medical care," he said.
"People have a real fear of coming into our clinics," said Dr. Thomas Treadwell, director of the Infectious Disease Clinic at the MetroWest Medical Center. "Some don't have insurance, others don't want it on their record. Anonymous testing is one of the cornerstones of the AIDS testing program." More than 100 people used Framingham's anonymous testing and counseling services last year. Over the last month, McNamara said, he had to turn away six people who wanted to get tested. McNamara said he believes people have gone untested because the services were not available in Framingham during the past four months.