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HIV/AIDS programs face major cuts in January

GLENN TOWNES Special to the AmNews | 10/12/2012, 2:55 p.m.
Honoring 20 years of providing HIV/AIDS services in Harlem

An edict that will slash millions in federal spending for HIV/AIDS programs will automatically begin in early January, unless President Barack Obama and Congress come to a fiscal agreement of sorts before the end of the year.

Late last month, the AIDS Institute in Washington, D.C., drafted and submitted a detailed letter to various congressional leaders requesting that a measure to sequester four federal HIV/AIDS programs be delayed or suspended. The organization outlined more than $538 million in cuts in HIV/AIDS funding that are slated to go into effect on Jan. 2, 2013. The AIDS Institute is a national think tank that, among other things, promotes HIV/AIDS awareness through social programs.

The letter read, in part, "Our nation cannot afford to turn its back on addressing the domestic HIV/AIDS crisis. It is imperative that alternatives to sequestration be identified and agreed upon by Congress and the president so that these drastic cuts will not automatically occur." The letter went on to highlight that more than 50,000 new infections are documented each year and 1.1 million people are living with the virus.

According to the AIDS Institute, the four targeted areas facing the federal ax include the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, including the AIDS Drug Assistance Program; CDC HIV/AIDS prevention programs; domestic and international research programs at the National Institute of Health; and the Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS program. In raw numbers, more than 10,000 patients would lose access to free or low-cost HIV/AIDS meds, and low-cost housing and/or hospice care would end for thousands of people living with the virus. While Obama has supported expanded Medicaid coverage for people living with HIV, bipartisan opposition to various HIV/AIDS initiatives has made the implementation of certain social programs difficult, according to some proponents and AIDS activists.

"They need to be expanding programs for people living with HIV and not cutting them," said Oriol G. of New York. "Nearly half of all people living with HIV have insufficient health care coverage or none at all," said Oriol. "They depend on the federal government and social programs like the AIDS Drug Assistance Program and the Ryan White Program."

Likewise, New Yorker Shirlene C. said, "The epidemic has gone through four presidents [Reagan, Bush, Clinton and Bush]. We need today's politicians to support the development of a national AIDS strategy."