Sequester To Have Devastating Effect on HIV Treatment

by Conswella Bennett
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Mar 21, 2013

A sequester, the across-the-board federal spending cuts to government agencies to help reduce the federal debt that went into effect this month, is expected to have devastating effects on AIDS research and treatment.

"Now is the time for great opportunities, but with the cutbacks the momentum may come to a standstill and have a great impact on HIV/AIDS research, prevention, treatment, care and housing," said amfAR Vice President and Director of Public Policy Chris Collins in a telephone interview with EDGE.

The sequestration will have a major effect on the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, Collins added. "It will have a very tangible effect," he said of the program's efforts to provide medication to low-income people living with HIV/AIDS who have limited or no health insurance coverage and meet state-specific income guidelines.

The program also assists funding the Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS Program (HOPWA). It provides housing assistance and related supportive services to people living with AIDS who are unable to afford housing, according to the amfAR website. According to previous published media reports, the AIDS Drug Assistance Program received an $85 billion hit to its budget.

"Cuts to the AIDS Drug Assistance Program could result in 7,400 fewer patients having access to lifesaving HIV medications," a White House report said. "And approximately 424,000 fewer HIV tests could be conducted by Centers for Disease Control (CDC) State grantees, which could result in increased future HIV transmissions, deaths from HIV, and costs in health care."

It was almost 30 years ago that the HIV/AIDS virus was discovered in America. In the early days, it was believed to be an incurable disease, but in recent years more and more people have been surviving with the virus. But with the sequester, some feel that the hands of time could be turning back those early years when an AIDS diagnosis was a death sentence.

LGBT leaders and AIDS service organizations have been working to confront the recent rise in the number of HIV cases among young men, especially among the African American communities. At the recent National Gay and Lesbian Task Force’s annual Creating Change conference held in Atlanta, last month CDC official Gregorio Millett released what has been described as disturbing data. Millett informed those in attendance that they were estimating that in 30 years, half of the current population of 20-year-old men who have sex with men would be infected with HIV.

A cut in domestic HIV/AIDS programs of 8.2 percent will have a devastating impact on people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) while providing negligible deficit reduction. It will undercut America’s leadership in health research, and will impede the National HIV/AIDS Strategy goals of reducing the rate of new HIV infections, improving access to lifesaving care and reducing HIV-related health disparities, according to the amfAR website.

Although Collins isn’t optimistic that the White House and Congress will work together to find their way out of the sequester, he said there needs to be a critical investment made in health related issues. If not, Collins said, "We are going to see real damaging effects on public health."

"It will also damage American leadership in health research, and limit the United States’ ability to reduce the rate of new HIV infections, improve access to care, and reduce the disproportionate impact of HIV/AIDS on communities of color," stated amfARS’ report, published this week, "The Effect of Budget Sequestration on HIV/AIDS in the United States: Projecting the Human Impact in Fiscal Year 2013."

According to the report, the sequestration cuts will cause 8,610 people living with HIV/AIDS to lose access to AIDS Drug Assistance Program, including 5,540 people of color. HOPWA funds will be cut to 1,530 permanent households, and 1,640 will lose short-term assistance. The National Institues of Health will lose $153.7 million in AIDS research funding, including 31 funding AIDS vaccine research. And more than $39.3 million will be cut from the CDC’s programs, including those targeting young people and at-risk groups.


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