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AIDSWatch 2010 Highlights HIV/AIDS Funding

By WeHo News Staff, West Hollywood

May 27, 2010

West Hollywood City Council Deputy Hernan Molina accompanied the activists to Washington D.C. WeHo News

West Hollywood, California (May 27, 2010) – Over 500 activists, including people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA), fanned out across Capitol Hill on April 26-28 for AIDSWatch 2010, the largest national HIV/AIDS advocacy event, staged annually in Washington, D.C.

This year, the activists included more than 20 Californians, including staff and clients from AIDS Project Los Angeles (APLA); West Hollywood City Council Deputy Hernan Molina; and Jeffrey Goodman from the L.A. County Commission on HIV.

The AIDSWatch message to Congress was more urgent than ever. Advocates campaigned for an increase in HIV/AIDS appropriations, Congressional support for a National AIDS Strategy, and federal relief for cash-strapped states like California.

Budget cuts have decimated HIV/AIDS programs in many states and now threaten state AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAPs), which provide life-saving drugs to low-income, uninsured or underinsured people living with HIV/AIDS nationwide.

The AIDSWatch agenda focused on the Ryan White Act, Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS (HOPWA), Minority AIDS Initiative and CDC (Centers for Disease Control) prevention programs.

Advocates also called for a $126 million emergency FY 2010 appropriation for ADAP; support for HIV evidence-based prevention strategies; and implementation of health care reform.

AIDSWatch is sponsored by the National Association of People Living with AIDS (NAPWA) and a broad coalition of other national advocacy groups. It provides a critical opportunity for people living with HIV/AIDS to share personal stories with Congress -- often the most direct way to demonstrate the effectiveness of federal programs and funding for HIV/AIDS.

Over 15 advocates represented Southern California this year, including representatives from: APLA, Bienestar Human Services, Common Ground, The San Diego Human Dignity Foundation, Los Angeles County’s Office of AIDS Programs and Policy and the Commission. The SoCal contingent met with more than 25 offices -- nearly a quarter of all Hill Visits conducted as part of AIDSWatch.

The offices were distributed across both sides of the political aisle, and included (but were not limited) to Reps. Henry Waxman, Maxine Waters, Lucille Roybal-Allard and Diane Watson; House Speaker Nancy Pelosi; Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein; and Governor Schwarzenegger’s D.C. staff. APLA coordinated the SoCal visits for the entire contingent.

The Southern California group participated in an all-day advocacy training session, two Congressional briefings covering the overall state of the epidemic nationally and its effect on the Latino community, as well as several receptions that gave the advocates the chance to get to know one another and share on-the-ground experiences with D.C. staff.

Domestic HIV/AIDS funding has remained largely flat or has seen only minor increases over the past decade. With inflation and growing numbers of people living with HIV factored in, federal programs are being stretched nationwide, resulting in cuts to both services and access to care.

In California, Schwarzenegger slashed some $85 million from HIV/AIDS programs last year, cutting all state support for home-based health care, HIV counseling and testing, and prevention and education.

Nationally, there are now over a thousand people in 10 states on ADAP wait lists for life-sustaining medications, while 10 other states have instituted cost-saving measures such as co-pays or a reduction in the number of drugs available to sick patients.

In this year’s proposed budget, Governor Schwarzenegger has committed to increasing ADAP funding to keep pace with the increased cost of drugs and heightened demand.

Otherwise, his new budget calls for ever deeper state cuts to other healthcare programs, including the beleaguered Medi-Cal program. The California Assembly is now responsible for coming up with a balanced budget to meet an estimated deficit of nearly $20 billion.

AIDSWatch focused on the implementation of health care reform and the National AIDS Strategy because both will have significant impact on care and treatment for PLWHA.

Healthcare reform will bring new opportunities for PLWHA to enroll in either public or private health insurance programs.

The recently enacted health reform bill also includes new monies for disease prevention that may well increase funding for HIV/AIDS prevention.

A National HIV/AIDS Strategy is currently being crafted by the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP). The Strategy will provide the U.S. with its first-ever official plan to fight the epidemic and will help coordinate HIV and AIDS programs on a national level. The plan is scheduled for release sometime this summer.

To learn more about AIDSWatch or to participate in next year’s event, contact the Government Affairs Division at APLA at GovernmentAffairs@apla.org.