Long before the government shutdown happened, HIV/AIDS advocacy organizations had been feeling the effects of federal budget cuts.
Beginning on March 1, 2013, the budget sequestration resulted in 5 percent spending cuts to HIV/AIDS treatment and research, according to a report published by amfAR, one of the world’s oldest and largest AIDS research and HIV advocacy organizations.
This meant cuts to the programs providing necessary medication and housing for low-income people, particularly people of color, and drug treatment research through the National Institute of Health (NIH).
With the recent government shutdown and concerns over 2014 budget negotiations, major organizations are cautious in structuring programming and planning for long-term initiatives that increase quality of life for many.
Initial Cuts and the Sequestration
Though a lot of attention has been given to the shutdown as a wake up call for recognizing cuts to vital services, HIV/AIDS organizations have been facing shoestring budgets since the sequester cuts went into effect earlier this year.
Though all organizations relying on federal funds received some reductions in cuts, some of the most alarming cuts included 39.3 million dollars for HIV prevention efforts, particularly targeted toward young men ages 13-24 who have sex with other men.
Why is this such a concern? The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has shown a 22 percent increase in infection rates in this group of men between 2008 and 2010.
GMHC, a non-profit advocating for HIV/AIDS causes in the LGBTQ community since 1981, has also faced cuts.
Staff layoffs and mandated furloughs have led to elimination of waiting lists for hot meal programs, reduction in mental services and the cancellation of programs targeted toward HIV testing for people over the age of 50. These programs are “the last safety net that keeps them alive and gives them hope for the future,” said Jason Cianciotto, GMHC public policy director, in an original interview.
The Government Shutdown and Funding Impacts
On October 1st, after Congress couldn’t agree on a budget, the federal government was effectively shut down. Though relatively little attention was paid to HIV/AIDS funding, the Washington Blade briefly investigated how the shutdown has impacted services.
Though many of the organizations, including GMHC, rely on grant money beginning on April 1, 2014, federal government organizations have been immediately impacted. As an example, clinical trials for drugs to treat and prevent HIV or AIDS have been halted at the NIH. And the CDC, which provides regular updates on testing, treatments and infection rates, cannot update their website.
The loss of these two organizations’ work and public-facing communications halts significant progress made in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
“I have read stories about individuals trying to get into clinical trials for new medications. Many are long-term survivors living with HIV or AIDS who have developed resistance to existing medications,” said Cianciotto.
Without having new medications, these survivors with HIV could face additional health complications and even death from other preventable illness.
The Fight to Restore Funding to HIV/AIDS Programs
Lacking any real insight into the future of budget negotiations, GMHC and other organizations remain deeply concerned about funding for 2014.
However, rather than being hopeless, they remain optimistic a shift in the conversation can force the federal government to reinvest in vital HIV/AIDS programs.
“People need to not only reach out to their representatives to express support for increased funding for health and human services, but also facilitate dialogue with their friends and families that counters the myth that all government is bad,” Cianciotto remarked.
How can individuals change the conversation over healthcare once the government shutdown ends? GMHC itself has an Action Center allowing individuals to advocate at city, state and federal levels for stronger HIV/AIDS funding.
But conversations could also start at home and online, removed from a legislative setting. Educational materials can come in many forms: a report detailing the benefits of Obamacare, or even an infographic.
Given the relative invisibility of HIV/AIDS funding cuts throughout the entirety of 2013, raising awareness by providing educational resources is vitally important for this particular issue.
Though the future of these budget negotiations remains uncertain, work to refund HIV/AIDS programs can have measurable effects that improve the lives of millions of individuals throughout the United States.