Today marked a major milestone in the Obama administration’s handling of the HIV AIDS pandemic, President Obama unveiled what some are describing as a new national strategy for fighting persistent HIV infection rates. A new goal is to reduce the number of new infections by one fourth in five years. It is estimated that 56,000 people become infected with HIV in the United States each year. Because HIV AIDS patients are able to live longer than ever, this means that funds needed to treat these patients will increase each year for the foreseeable short term future.
Obviously, anything that can be done to reduce the number of new HIV infections would help people avoid a lifetime of medical care, and could save the government approximately $12-15,000 a year in medication costs alone. Already, due to increased demand, some states have waiting lists for HIV positive patients who need life saving antiretroviral medications. This is unfortunate for these patients as new research shows that the earlier HIV positive patients are able to begin medical therapy, the longer they are able to live as it is now believed that HIV begins damaging the body from the first year of infection.
However, is the Obama Administration putting their money where their mouth is?
Currently, it is estimated that there are approximately 2,000 people on waiting lists to receive antiretroviral medications through the ADAP (AIDS Drug Assistance Program) which is part of the Ryan White Act. Although approximately $25 million has been allocated to help get people off the wait lists, this would not cover treatment for all of these patients. Directors of state AIDS funding programs have requested a total amount of $126 million federal dollars to ensure treatment for everybody. Legislation to meet this funding gap did not receive sufficient support from Congress or the White House.
The AIDS Health foundation, AHF, has released a statement criticizing president Obama’s new national aid strategy as being underfunded, and has even put up a website which states that former President George W Bush did more for AIDS funding then President Obama http://www.changeaidsobama.org/.
The AHF has been particularly harsh and their criticism of the president calling his strategy “a day late, and a dollar short.”
President Obama’s Health and Human Services Secretary, Kathleen Sebelius, while acknowledging that more needs to be done, has commented that, in brief, the federal government can’t do everything in that “. . . states and pharmaceutical companies also need to do their part.” While the administration has set high goals in the fight against HIV and AIDS in the United States, such as requiring that 85% of people who test positive for HIV are able to get regular medical care, many AIDS activists believe that these mandates are largely unfunded and therefore meaningless.
In part, the economic recession is to blame for decreased funding for state AIDS budgets, state funding for such programs has dropped on average 34 percent. Leaving many to turn to the federal government to make up the difference, something which the Obama administration has declined to do in a dramatic fashion as federal funding for HIV/AIDS programs hasn’t been dramatically ramped up.