Thursday, February 19, 2009

Stimulating More Interest in Fighting AIDS

What if every dollar lost in the stock market or the real estate market over the first 30 days of Barack Obama’s presidency represented a new HIV infection among our nation’s most important infrastructure, our people?

Would the emergency response have been as swift? Would all of the centers of economic, political and media power have been galvanized to stop the rapid spread of the disease?

I hope so. But even my quiet confidence in President Obama’s commitment to devote more resources and attention to battling HIV/AIDS in the United States wrestles with my worry that the 28-year long AIDS crisis has already taken a back seat to more pazzazy, prime-time problems. The collapse of banks, auto companies, 401K plans, State budgets, and real estate values have been sweeping enough to engender enormous and essential multi-billion dollar bailouts. But what about HIV/AIDS, which continues to infect one new person in the U.S., every 9 ½ minutes?

In a new set of HIV/AIDS related statistics just released by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control & Prevention), 1.7 million individuals are estimated to be infected with the HIV virus, including nearly 600,000 who have already died of the disease. In the last year for which we have complete records, 2007, another 14, 561 people died AIDS related deaths, and more than 56,000 became newly infected with HIV.

Sure, I can take some solace that help is beginning to trickle down, since the stimulus bill (the Recovery Act) signed by President Obama this week, included $10 billion for NIH to expand biomedical research in AIDS, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer and heart disease. And, I know that the $86.6 billion allocated over the next two years to help states pay for their Medicaid programs, will assist many lower-income people living with HIV. Those are all essential and long overdue, along with huge increases in HIV prevention funding.

But, what’s real always has a way of purifying promises. In 2008, total US federal funding to combat HIV was $23.3 billion, or, considerably less than the bailout given to insurance giant AIG. Of that AIDS money, only 4 percent went toward prevention, and 25 percent of the total amount went to fighting AIDS abroad.

That is simply not good enough to do the work ahead of us in fighting HIV/AIDS. In many American cities and states, citizens who never owned stocks or 401K plans or homes of their own, are faced with the quiet catastrophes every day of struggling with HIV in a society that has lost interest in them, faster than it was lost from bank accounts.

With hundreds of billions of dollars being used to rebuild this country’s collapsing institutions, jobs & infrastructure, attention must be paid to rebuilding the lives of people living with HIV/AIDS—and the President’s State of the Union address next week would be a good place to start.

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