Flat Funding for HIV Prevention and Treatment in 09 Budget


The Gay Men’s Health Crisis
(GMHC), the nation’s largest HIV charity, is criticizing the 2009
Omnibus Appropriations bill because it holds funding flat for HIV
prevention efforts through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
The organization contends such a flat funding scale when taken into
account with inflation is in fact a reduction in HIV prevention
funding.

The bill was submitted by President Barack Obama, and is waiting to be taken up in the U.S. House.

From a report published Wednesday in Edge, a Boston, Mass. newspaper:

“It is disappointing for Congress to flat fund HIV
prevention efforts at this time,” said GHMC CEO Marjorie J. Hill.
“Recent CDC reports indicate that the domestic epidemic is worse than
previously estimated. Racial minorities and gay men, especially gay men
of color, are disproportionately becoming HIV-positive.”

Stats from the CDC back up Hill’s claim.

Men who have sex with men still make up a hugely disproportionate
percentage of new AIDS cases, according to the CDC’s own data — 57% of
new HIV diagnoses in 2006. This translates to gay (and bisexual) men
being 20 to 30 times more likely to become infected with HIV.

The other big at-risk group is women of color. According to the CDC,
in 2006, 15,000 women were infected, with black and Latina women
comprising 75 percent of those. Overall, HIV infections increased 9
percent from 2006 to 2007.

This comes as HIV/AIDS researcher William Hasteline published a commentary in The Atlantic
calling for the implementation of more wide spread, universal testing
for HIV, as well as more access to antiretroviral medications. The
drugs have been effective in preventing the widespread and wholesale
destruction of the immune system which caused so many to die in the
early years of the pandemic.

And why is the researcher who has been near or on the front line of
the battle against HIV since it made its appearance in the U.S. making
this call?

In the near term, our hope for preventing new infections
arises from recent observations regarding the effectiveness of
diagnosis and treatment in limiting transmission: It has been found
that anti-HIV/AIDS drugs reduce the spread of the virus in several
circumstances. About one third of children born to infected mothers
become infected with HIV. In some instances, this transmission occurs
before birth, in other instances, during birth trauma. Still others are
infected through breast feeding. But evidence suggests that treating
the mother with anti-HIV/AIDS drugs can dramatically reduce all three
types of transmission.

Preliminary studies by Max Essex, working with a team at Harvard and
in Botswana, seem to show that infection of newborns falls to
undetectable rates if mothers are treated with combination therapy for
the six months before and after birth, providing that the child is
weaned at six months. If transmission by such intimate contact as
mother to child can be reduced to near zero, it seems likely that other
forms of transmission can also be reduced. Several additional studies
document the effectiveness of treatment in substantially reducing
sexual transmission of the virus in both heterosexual and homosexual
couples. Effective treatment may even reduce infections that occur via
blood directly, either by transfusion or by sharing blood-contaminated
needles.

Early detection should lead to early intervention with medicines
which reduce or eliminate the potentiality of transmission of the
virus. That should sound like a no-brainer to anyone with common sense,
but as reporters from our sister site Colorado Independent reported
yesterday, common sense appears to fly out the door when it comes to
HIV testing. Check out Ernest Luning’s stunning story about the state
senator who thinks mandatory prenatal HIV testing rewards promiscuity (seriously, you can’t make this stuff) and Wendy Norris’ follow up piece where the same state senator said he hoped the babies of HIV positive women got AIDS– so the mother would feel guilty.

I wrote about the issue of antiretrovirals as a prevention on World AIDS Day.

While the Obama administration has put in the 2009 Omnibus
Appropriations bill a request for $1.4 million to develop a national
HIV/AIDS strategy (something Hill from GMHC applauded, incidently), the
failure of his administration to seek increased prevention funding
raises concerns from some that his campaign promises on the issue might ring hollow.

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