New Hope, New Challenges in Fight Against AIDS
March 10, 1997
Promising AIDS therapies and new standards of care have in the past year produced dramatic health improvements for hundreds of thousands of people affected by HIV/AIDS. Simultaneously, many of us have allowed ourselves to believe that "AIDS" and "death" may no longer be synonymous. Our sense of hope was bolstered again last week with two exciting pieces of good news showing that our nation's response to this terrible epidemic is working. Deaths from AIDS have fallen sharply for the first time in the sixteenth year of the AIDS epidemic. The spread of the epidemic continues to slow.
If nothing else, the welcome statistics validate the urgency to maintain our country's investment in AIDS research and treatment. As we enter a period in which more and more people are living with AIDS, it also seems incredibly clear that allowing people with HIV/AIDS to access and, thus, to benefit from state-of-the-art care must be part of any serious response to an evolving epidemic. Our challenge, as other data regarding women and communities of color indicate, is to remedy the appalling inequities that exist in access to federal AIDS prevention and health care - inequities which significantly contribute to the spread of HIV.
Ensuring that new hope touches the lives of all Americans affected by HIV/AIDS takes many forms. While the promise of new therapies can only be realized if there is available and affordable comprehensive health care and adequate access to prescription drugs, access to state-of-the-art care is only one piece of a complex and challenging puzzle. Our nation's response to the epidemic must continue to center around an unwavering commitment to HIV prevention and education and the myriad vital supportive services such as child care, transportation, and appropriate case management, that keep people with HIV/AIDS alive and healthy.
Unfortunately, the federal response to AIDS could too easily be set back in an environment of budgetary retrenchment. The optimistic picture of the AIDS epidemic that has been painted recently has prompted public pronouncements by our elected officials in support of AIDS programs and the fundamental humanitarian values that they embody. However, action must follow rhetoric. When making critical budget decisions, our elected officials need to ensure that our nation's sustained investment in stemming the tide of AIDS and caring for those already infected is every bit as important as the nation's need for fiscal control.
The integrity and very nature of the Medicaid program - which provides health care to over half of all adults and 90 percent of all children with HIV/AIDS - must be preserved. Funding for AIDS programs, including HIV prevention, medical and social services provided through the Ryan White CARE Act, and housing provided through the Housing Opportunities for People With AIDS program, must be increased. And, we must bridge the chasm that exists between science and politics - a chasm which has prevented public health initiatives such as needle exchange to serve as weapons in the fight against AIDS.
Let's be clear, concern for the budget is long overdue - no one can deny the need for a balanced budget. A balanced budget must be achieved, however, with an underlying understanding that what is pleasing on paper in the form of diminished expenditures, has very real consequences for millions of Americans.
Our nation is at a crucial moment in the fight against AIDS. At long
last, new hope has cast away the pall of discouragement around this deadly
epidemic. And, as the numbers indicate, we have made incredible progress on
several fronts. However, so much more remains to be done. We cannot afford to
fall victim to excessive optimism and a sense of complacency. The public health
community, with crucial support from the federal government, must act quickly
and assertively to ensure that the new hope does not become a new source of
despair for even one person affected by HIV/AIDS. Our nation's response today
may well frame the next chapter in the history of the AIDS epidemic.
For more information, contact:
This article was provided by AIDS Action Council.