Nancy Mahon is the global executive director of the MAC AIDS Fund.
Today is World AIDS Day, a time when we as a global community pause to remember the more than 25 million people who have died of AIDS around the world. It is also a time to reflect on what we have done and what we still must do to prevent further spread of HIV and to allow those 33.4 million people who are living with the virus worldwide to live full lives as family members, employees and citizens.
In the United States, we have made significant strides in addressing this issue from the first National AIDS Plan on HIV/AIDS that President Obama issued in July 2010 to the administration appropriating an additional $26 million to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for domestic prevention efforts.
And yet in a profound and disturbing sense, those funds are just a drop in the proverbial healthcare budget as we continue to under-invest in HIV prevention and strain to pay the treatment costs of those who are already infected with HIV.
In July 2010, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius issued $25 million in emergency funding for states that are on the waiting list for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, a federal initiative that provides free medications for the treatment of HIV/AIDS and opportunistic infections. Yet despite the additional funding, nine states including Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, Montana, North Carolina, Ohio, Rhode Island, and South Carolina still have waiting lists for the program. In addition to these waiting lists, several states have changed their eligibility requirements leaving many people without access to much needed assistance and at high risk of stopping their life saving treatments.
I applaud Secretary Sebelius for her efforts, but how will states afford the HIV treatment bills for those who already have the virus, let alone those newly infected next year? What will the newly inflamed debate about healthcare reform mean for people living with HIV? [Read more about healthcare reform.]
We must redouble our public and private funding for HIV prevention efforts particularly in geographic hot spots of the epidemic like Washington, D.C., where the HIV infection rate is 12 times the national average and black women are at very high risk of infection.
We must also redouble our efforts with gay and bisexual men who continue to represent most of the HIV cases in the United States. And while this is not new news, the fact that 68 percent of men who are infected with HIV by another man are infected by their primary partner means that much more effective prevention can be done with this population.
Given the rise in infection rates among this population and others, it is also important for us as a global community to look beyond traditional prevention tactics and work toward creating, funding and supporting new models that may be more successful.
We must accelerate the discussions about more effective prevention efforts among policy makers as well as private and public donors that were sparked by the National AIDS Plan. Otherwise, we will have fewer strides to celebrate and more lives to mourn during World AIDS Days to come.
- See who gets the most from health professionals.
- Check out our editorial cartoons on healthcare.
- See a slide show of 10 things that are (and aren't) in the healthcare bill.