February 6, 2006
In June 2005, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that between 1,039,000 and 1,185,000 people are living with HIV in the United States. This was the first time that the country's HIV estimates topped one million. Meanwhile, the number of new HIV infections continues to grow at an estimated 42,000 per year, which is far too high.
"Against the backdrop of four years of funding cuts, President Bush's pledge of new funding is a very welcome and necessary start," says AIDS Action Council Board chair Craig Thompson, executive director of AIDS Project LA. "However," he cautions, "additional funding is needed to ensure that people in need of life-saving treatment will not go without it."
In March 2005, AIDS Action proposed that $720 million in new funding be allocated to the CARE Act's AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) to meet not only current need but also to handle new HIV positive people coming into the system, and to modernize and strengthen the program's system of medical care. ADAP should have a baseline HIV drug formulary, and program participants should be able to access the same medications and services from state to state to ensure continuity of care.
"AIDS Action is ready to work with the Administration and Congress to ensure that all people living with HIV in the United States have access to the medication that the Public Health Service Guidelines recommend for the treatment of HIV," adds AIDS Action Council Board member Katy Caldwell, executive director of Legacy Community Health Services in Houston, Texas. "When those displaced by Hurricane Katrina arrived at our doorstep for medical treatment, we were unable to provide life-saving drugs under the current federal ADAP guidelines since ADAP services in Louisiana are not comparable to those in Texas. A national formulary and portable benefits would have solved that issue and allowed our doctors to immediately treat those in need."
The President's budget request includes $93 million in new funding for the purchase and distribution of rapid HIV test kits. "By funding rapid testing, the Administration is taking a welcome step towards helping Americans know their HIV status," remarks Sam Rivera, community co-chair of the Urban Coalition of HIV/AIDS Prevention Services (UCHAPS). "However," he adds, "we must continue to target populations most at risk: men who have sex with men, intravenous drug users, African American women in particular, and communities of color in general."
"We must remember that HIV testing alone does not ensure that treatment is available for those who need it," states AIDS Action Council Board member Joseph Interrante, CEO of Nashville CARES in Nashville, Tennessee. "Funding must be available so that every person who is diagnosed with HIV can be connected to ongoing care and treatment, including medications, to ensure that they are able to maintain their health. The President's budget request falls short of that goal."
The President's budget also requests $25 million for a grant program to strengthen outreach by local community non-profit organizations and faith-based organizations. "The faith-based community has been involved in HIV prevention, care and treatment, and social services, states AIDS Action Board member Pernessa Seele, founder and CEO of The Balm In Gilead. "AIDS Action and my own organization are committed to helping implement such services in high risk communities. We want to engage the faith based community to work with other local community based nonprofit organizations to ensure that everyone in need of care be equally and with respect."
"President Bush's proposed initiatives to routinely test people for HIV and to reach out to the communities most affected by HIV are likely to bring many new cases into the care and treatment system," notes William McColl, political director for AIDS Action. "It is critical that we reauthorize the Ryan White CARE Act and ensure that there is an increase in funds not only to allow us to meet our current needs, but also the needs of the many thousands of people who will be entering the system."