BLACK CAUCUS: Calls For AIDS State of Emergency
The Congressional Black Caucus yesterday called on Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala "to declare an AIDS state of emergency because of the unchecked spread of the disease in the nation's minority community," the Washington Times reports. "This is a national crisis," said Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), chair of the CBC. "We will not rest until it is understood as one, until it is considered as one and worked on as one," she added. The Washington Times reports that a "state of emergency" would raise public awareness of the disease and communicate to the government that more money and energy should be directed "toward preventing and treating AIDS among blacks and Hispanics." But in practical terms, a "state of emergency" may have little effect, in that an emergency fund dedicated to AIDS is currently empty, according to HHS spokesperson Melissa Skolfield (Scully, 5/12).
The Time Is Now
Waters noted that "[a]ccording to the Kaiser Family Foundation, blacks now represent 35% of all reported cases and 43% of new cases, even though African Americans comprise only 12% of the population. The annual AIDS case rate for African- American men is six times that of white men and for African- American women it is 16 times that of white women. AIDS is now the leading cause of death among African Americans age 25 to 44" (CBC release, 5/11). According to the National Minority AIDS Council, African Americans are "less likely to know their HIV status, more likely to be diagnosed late in disease progression, less likely to have access to doctors with experience treating HIV/AIDS and less likely to have access to new and promising combination drug therapies" (NMAC release, 5/11).
Funding The Crisis
The Washington Times reports that the federal government "spends $3 billion a year on AIDS-related programs. President Clinton proposes to raise that to nearly $4 billion next year, in part to focus on AIDS among minorities." Rep. Louis Stokes (D-OH), a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said, "That money is not trickling down to where the problem lies. There is a need to get the money where the problem is" (5/12). HHS' Skolfield said, "We certainly agree with the Congressional Black Caucus that minority communities have been especially hard hit by the AIDS epidemic. It's something that we consider to be urgent" (AP/Austin American-Statesman, 5/12).
Overcoming The Crisis
In addition to the "state of emergency," the Washington Times reports that the caucus "asked for federal help combining AIDS prevention and treatment with drug programs; improving AIDS prevention in prisons; helping community groups draft grant proposals for AIDS treatment programs; mounting a 'wholesale campaign' against homophobia among blacks; targeting minority women and children for prevention and treatment; and increasing the number of minority health workers and researchers in the field and on panels issuing grant money" (5/12). "This is only the beginning of our efforts," stated Waters. "Enough is enough. We must exert the political will necessary to take on HIV/AIDS in those communities where it is reaching epidemic proportions. This is not a national crisis. We will not rest until the crisis is acknowledged and strategies and resources are directed to eliminate it" (CBC release, 5/11).