HIV/AIDS: Groups Push For Prevention Initiatives
AIDS advocacy groups urged federal officials yesterday to pour more government funding into HIV education and prevention efforts, initiatives they say have been overlooked. At a news conference, AIDS Action unveiled a 10-point plan to jumpstart prevention projects in the face of rising infection rates and flat federal funding. The plan, which hails prevention as a "virtual vaccine," calls for a 25% increase in government funding of HIV prevention programs, which now get about $600 million annually, USA Today reports. "Imagine if we had a medical vaccine for HIV/AIDS, and the forces that would be deployed to get it out there," said AIDS Action Executive Director Daniel Zingale. He added, "The closest thing we have today is a virtual vaccine -- prevention and education -- but those efforts are paralyzed." White House AIDS policy adviser Sandra Thurman agreed: "Until we have a vaccine, until we have a cure, our first line of defense is prevention" (Sternberg, USA Today, 7/21).
Among the other initiatives AIDS Action recommended were televised condom ads during shows rated "S" for sexual content, increased use of a new, 10-minute HIV test at hospitals and clinics and the creation of an HIV prevention website that would be linked to sites popular with teens (AP/Baltimore Sun, 7/21). More than 40,000 Americans become infected with HIV each year -- half of them under age 25 -- at a cost of about $6.2 billion in lifetime treatment, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced at yesterday's meeting. And with the price of AIDS drugs at $40 a day, Zingale said the AIDS Action plan "will not only save lives, it would save dollars" (AP/Austin American-Statesman, 7/21). The leaps in AIDS treatment have jeopardized prevention efforts, leaving "a false impression that a cure is at hand," Zingale said. "In 1996, we got hope. In 1997, we got complacent. In 1998, we get reality," he said. The AIDS Action plan specifically targets African Americans in several of its recommendations, in an attempt to quell the spread of the AIDS virus among blacks, who now account for 57% of Americans with HIV (Kane, State News/Philadelphia Daily News, 7/21).
The more than 30 AIDS advocacy groups assembled for yesterday's meeting stressed "anonymous, confidential and private" HIV testing as central to the battle against the disease. The call for testing was a reversal of their stance at the beginning of the epidemic -- that people should avoid AIDS testing because the results might be misused. "Today, in 1998, there has never been a better time to get tested for HIV," said Ronald Johnson, of the New York-based Gay Men's Health Crisis. "The HIV testing gap is the engine that drives this epidemic," he added. However, the Washington Times reports that the groups continue to oppose mandatory HIV testing as well as names-based HIV reporting (Larson, Washington Times, 7/21). Click here to see AIDS Action's 10-point plan, "The Virtual Vaccine." For all the latest HIV/AIDS news, check out the Kaiser Family Foundation's Daily HIV/AIDS Report -- available free online at http://report.kff.org/aidshiv/ or through the foundation's homepage at www.kff.org.