Mass. HIV/AIDS services face budget cuts
Community health organizations -- including groups that provide support and services for people living with HIV/AIDS -- were notified by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health on Friday, Aug. 12 of a drastic cut in federal funding.
The reduction -- $4.3 million -- represents approximately 25 percent of the state’s annual HIV/AIDS prevention budget, the Boston Globe reported.
Community health representatives fear that crucial services will have to be cut, including free condom distribution programs and needle exchange efforts for intravenous drug users.
Rebecca Haag, President and CEO of the AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts, told the Globe she’s concerned about the organization’s telephone hotline, which has operated for 25 years. "We are the sole HIV hotline for the state," she said. "And we actually picked up coverage for Rhode Island when the government chose to not fund its hot line. We can no longer fund two statewide hotlines without any support."
Haag told the Globe that the organization still has work to do in deciding which services to cut or scale back.
Fenway Health will suffer a cut of about 20 percent in HIV/AIDS prevention funding.
"There is no question in my mind that these cuts will have an effect on our ability to cut infection rates," Dr. Stephen Boswell, President of Fenway Health, said.
The community health organization on Aug. 16 began a fundraising campaign to try and lessen the impact of the budget cuts. Visit http://bit.ly/ny4oj0 for more information.
The funding cuts follow dramatic shifts in how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will fund state-based HIV/AIDS prevention programs. The funds cut from states like Massachusetts -- with comparatively lower rates of HIV infection -- will be focused on states that have higher or increasing rates of HIV infections, including a handful of states in the South.
Dr. Kevin Fenton, Director of CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention, said during a press conference that the federal organization is "ensuring that money actually follows the epidemic."
"As we move forward in these challenging economic times...we have to maximize the availability of every dollar."
Advocates and leaders who are on the front lines of HIV/AIDS prevention in Massachusetts, however, are skeptical about maintaining the state’s low rates of infection following the budget cuts.
"Well-trained staff in the field, good information, as well as direct services for HIV-negative and -positive people, together, have given us the success this past decade," Kevin Cranston, Director of the state Bureau of Infectious Disease, told the Boston Globe. "I would hate to see a resurgence of HIV in Massachusetts after being so successful this decade."