Thursday, February 21, 2008

Picking Which Wars To Fight

There is no other, gentler way to say it, but every dollar spent on the War in Iraq is one less dollar that can be invested in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the United States.

The staggering cost of the Iraqi war--$496 billion since its inception, or $275 million per day—is taking money away from AIDS Service Organizations direct services to people with AIDS all across the country. Without such services, without food, and without transportation to clinics to receive proper health care or the anti-retroviral drugs needed to stay alive, people we continue to lose our everyday war against AIDS.

Two perfect illustrations are two ASOs in California—The Inland AIDS Project in Riverside, California, and the Desert AIDS Project in Palm Springs-- which have received funding from Cable Positive’s Tony Cox Community Fund, several times over the past few years. The Kaiser Family Foundation and the Riverside Press-Enterprise both reported this week that funding for both programs has been cut drastically under the Ryan White Care Act, the primary source of funding for local AIDS Service Organizations, while their caseloads are increasing.

In the last year alone, Inland AIDS—which serves more than 1,300 people throughout RiversideSan Bernardino Counties—had its budget cut by 30%, with a 60% drop occurring in its food program for the poorest of its clients in some of the hard to reach, rural communities it serves. The Desert AIDS Project—which provides medical and support services to some 2,300 people—saw its budget cut $200,000 despite a caseload increase of 25 percent. and

So what’s the link between spending on the war in Iraq and the war against HIV/AIDS?

Well, in Riverside County alone, according to the National Priorities Project ( taxpayers paid $718.2 million for the cost of the Iraq War in FY 2007. For the same amount of money NPP estimates, full health care costs could have been paid for 294, 938 people. For an investment a fraction of that size, people with AIDS living in Riverside County would not have been without food, transportation or medicine.

For taxpayers across the entire state of California, the War in Iraq cost them $17.4 billion during FY 2007—a sum of money which would have provided universal health care for 7.1 million Californians, or 20 percent of the State’s population. Granted, State and Federal governments choose to spend scarce resources on other things in addition to the Iraq War. But when the imbalance of expenditures becomes so dramatic that people living with HIV are going without food, medicine or transportation, attention must be paid.

In neighboring San Bernardino County—which contributed some $2.4 billion of tax dollars to the Iraqi War effort—the local Department of Public Health,which distributes federal funds to six ASOs in the region, declared that this year’s changes to the Ryan White Program are the “most drastic” since the legislation was enacted in 1990.

Cable Positive will continue to provide funds for strapped local AIDS Service organizations, either through our competitive grant process in our Tony Cox Community Fund, or through our matching grant program entitled “One-for-One,” which is already helping people with HIV on ADAP waiting lists around the country. Yet, we are one small, private funder and even though we do make a difference in the daily lives of people living with this disease, the War against HIV/AIDS is a 26-year long battle, and is too large to be fought without a concerted, fully-funded effort on the part of local, state and federal governments—working in partnership with organizations like Cable Positive, the Inland AIDS Project or Desert AIDS.

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