December 2002/January 2003
There's a new day dawning in Georgia and around the country. As the Republican Party claims unprecedented victory in state and federal elections, change looms on the horizon. Many people have expressed dismay, fear, and depression. The assumption being that this marks the beginning of the end for the HIV healthcare infrastructure.
I'll admit, I've struggled over the past few weeks with those same feelings myself. But then I remember the doom and gloom many of us felt after the "Republican Revolution" of 1994 when Newt Gingrich lead his party to assume control of Congress by touting the "Contract with America." People living with and affected by HIV were not a part of the America that Newt had lulled into joining his contract. Yet 1994 did not mark the beginning of the end.
In 1996, as protease inhibitors hit the market and combination therapy became the standard of medical care for HIV-positive folks, Georgia's AIDS Drug Assistance Program immediately struggled with a waiting list. Voices from throughout our community expressed despair that the funding for this program would never meet the demand. We would be forever rationing medications here in Georgia. Poor people would never truly benefit from the advances that had saved the lives of so many elsewhere in our country. It's been a constant struggle, but we've managed to increase funding every year, and have been without a waiting list for ADAP for most of the past year.
As we enter into 2003, we once again find ourselves on the edge. There is no approved federal budget, and a move to dramatically cut domestic spending in favor of tax cuts and war-time spending. Georgia will immediately cut another 2% from all departmental budgets. No one knows who will be the heads of the Departments of Human Resources and Community Health six months from now. Information about the use of condoms in preventing the spread of HIV has suddenly disappeared from the CDC website. The Bush administration has still failed to take any action to curtail the global spread of AIDS. Rumors persist that Georgia will implement name-based HIV reporting without seeking community input. Georgia's ADAP is struggling to keep up with demand, and will face severe shortages within the next six months. Rates for health insurance continue to climb, making it increasingly unaffordable to many working people. Layoffs continue making it difficult to even find a job.
Yes, it is a time of fear. Yes, there is much unknown. Yes, it's easy to get depressed. However, each time we've been faced with dire situations, we have found the way to come together as a community and fight. Over the past twenty-two years we've built a high-quality, community-based healthcare system from the ground up. We've passed unprecedented legislation that protects the rights of people with AIDS and other disabilities. We've secured increases in funding for essential services despite the ups and downs of the economy. We've saved lives, lowered the rates of infection, and created public policy that is compassionate and effective.
For some it's been a labor of love. For others, it's a matter of survival. And for many, a calling that goes beyond merely making a living or developing a career. It's a fight. It's our own personal war against the terrorism of HIV. It's a struggle against burnout, complacency, and ignorance. It's not over.
Contact Jeff Graham at Jgraham@aidssurvivalproject.org.