Tonight, the ball drops, the glasses of bubbly clink, Kathy Griffin says inappropriate things, Anderson Cooper blushes, and 2011 recedes into memory.
For the HIV/AIDS community, it was a year of immense success and change, along with some notable setbacks. Two steps forward, one step back, as the saying goes.
Perhaps more than anything, 2011 will be remembered as the year that put to rest the old treatment v. prevention debate.
Because of the HIV Prevention Trials Network clinical study released in May, just recently named breakthrough of the year by Science magazine, it’s now clear that treatment is prevention. The study found that giving antiretroviral drugs to HIV-positive heterosexual people can not only radically improve their health and survival but also reduce the risk of transmission to uninfected partners by as much as 96 percent.
In her historic address in early November, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton referenced the study’s findings, as she called for the United States to move boldly toward “creating an AIDS-free generation.” In the same speech, she named talk show host Ellen DeGeneres as the U.S. Special Envoy for Global AIDS Awareness.
Here’s the video of Clinton’s speech:
In 2011, the National HIV/AIDS Strategy continued to be implemented throughout the country. Perhaps the most significant change was the allocation of prevention funding: Under the national strategy, more money is distributed to large cities, like Chicago, which tend to have higher numbers of HIV cases, and less money is allocated to the states.
On World AIDS Day, President Obama promised to scale up domestic HIV/AIDS funding by $50 million, $35 million of which will go to the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), the program that helps people afford the expensive medications. Currently, there are more than 6,000 in the United States on ADAP waiting lists.
We’ll see what happens with that promise in 2012.
Also on or around World AIDS Day, David Ernesto Munar, president/CEO of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, weighed in on the Huffington Post, the Chicago Tribune and PBS NewsHour on what needs to happen to make the AIDS-free dream a reality.
The AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC) had plenty of its own reasons for champagne toasts in 2011, including but not limited to:
• The launching of the Bridge Project, a creative HIV testing initiative that has tested more than 3,000 people in hard-hit neighborhoods on Chicago’s South Side;
• The implementation and 1-year anniversary of the 100,000 Homes Campaign in Chicago, an AFC partnership with the Corporation for Supportive Housing and the Chicago Department of Family and Support Services. About 212 of Chicago’s most vulnerable homeless people are now housed as a result;
• With the help of various partners, the creation of HIVHealthReform.org – a website intended to educate advocates, lawmakers and people living with HIV on the importance of healthcare reform to those affected by HIV;
The recent reinstatement of the ban on federal funding for syringe exchanges was decried by AFC and HIV/AIDS groups all over the country. In short, Congress approved the reinstatement of the ban of federal support for syringe exchanges, which have been proven to save lives. Why? To save a relatively minute amount of money? To make a phony and dangerously misguided moral stand that these exchanges send the wrong message? It was partisan politics at its worst.
There was also a setback in microbicide research when a gel intended to protect women from HIV was dropped from an important study because it didn't prove to be effective.
And what appears at first to have been a setback may have been a blessing in disguise. The so-called Super Committee failed to reach an agreement on deficit reductions, triggering automatic cuts that will go into effect in 2013. The automatic cuts will come from defense and non-defense programs, but crucial programs like Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security are protected.
Still, we are not out of the woods -- not by a long shot. Though Social Security, Medicaid, and other entitlements are held harmless, the automatic cuts won't necessarily spare the Ryan White Care Act, Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS (HOPWA), HIV research at the National Institutes of Health, HIV prevention services funded through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and other housing, mental health and substance abuse treatment programs that benefit people with HIV/AIDS.
And HIV remains inadequately funded by public and private funding sources. In 2011, state funding for AIDS decreased and the shift in federal HIV prevention funding resulted in deep cuts for HIV prevention across Illinois. Available public funding for essential HIV prevention and care services dropped in virtually all communities as a result.
The federal fiscal year 2012 budget includes harmful across-the-board funding reductions for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Private philanthropic support for HIV has also declined. The recently released resource-tracking report from Funders Concerned About AIDS documents a 7 percent decrease ($33 million) in funding for HIV/AIDS projects from US-based philanthropies between 2009-2010, a trend we fear may be continuing.
Looking forward to 2012, the political stakes are high as we near the presidential election.
AFC does not endorse any candidate or political party. But it's critical to understand that the full implementation of the Affordable Care Act is necessary for future treatment of people living with HIV. The current Ryan White funding system is not sustainable.
The Supreme Court will not decide until summer whether the law is constitutional. But healthcare reform is already benefiting millions of Americans, including those with HIV. For more information, check out HIVHealthReform.org
So, here's to changing the story of HIV/AIDS in 2012. Tonight amid all the fireworks and hubbub, let us take a quiet moment to recommit ourselves to ending this epidemic and the stigma that follows it.
Do you ever feel there are critical advances in HIV/AIDS prevention that aren't being properly covered in the mainstream media? Or that there are complex HIV/AIDS-related healthcare and funding issues not being clearly explained? Or that there are powerful HIV/AIDS stories here in Chicago just waiting for someone to tell them? We feel that way, too!
At the AIDS Foundation of Chicago (AFC), we’re committed to changing the story of HIV/AIDS. Inside Story aims to take you inside that story, to give you an intimate look at how AFC, and other Chicago and national organizations, are fighting HIV/AIDS through medical, housing and support services; cutting-edge research into prevention and treatment methods; and advocacy for stronger HIV-AIDS public policy from legislators.