AIDS increase feared due to budget cuts
on October 28, 2009
Health advocates fear that state budget cuts to HIV/AIDS prevention programs will increase the number of people contracting the virus. Richmond, which has the highest number of people with HIV/AIDS in Contra Costa County, could be hard hit, they say.
Last summer Contra Costa Health Services eliminated all contracts with nonprofit organizations for HIV/AIDS education and prevention programs. Earlier this month, the number of county-sponsored mobile HIV testing and counseling events was reduced by half. The health department also eliminated a nursing program that provided in-home care for clients without Medi-Cal.
Last summer Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger removed $52.1 million from the Office of AIDS statewide through a line-item veto, according to H.D. Palmer of the California Department of Finance. The veto forced the county to make the local cuts, said Christine Leivermann, Contra Costa Health Services AIDS program director.
“Thanks to the extensive prevention, education and early intervention efforts of the last few years, the transmission of HIV/AIDS in this county have [sic] gone down dramatically –70 new cases last year compared to hundreds and even thousands a year at the beginning of the epidemic,” according to an August report from the Contra Costa County Administrator to the Board of Supervisors.
These gains will be lost without targeted prevention programs, said Barbara Becnel, executive director of Neighborhood House of North Richmond. “The budget cuts have been balanced on the backs of the most vulnerable people,” she said. “It is literally a death sentence.
The AIDS program cuts in Contra Costa County total $943,351. “It’s such a small amount of money,” said Junie Tate, former outreach worker with Neighborhood House. “It makes me feel like they just don’t care.”
HIV/AIDS prevention is particularly challenging in Richmond, said Tate. African Americans, men who have sex with men and injection drug users are at highest risk, according to the county’s Comprehensive HIV Prevention Plan for 2008-2013.
Until July, Tate spent her days building relationships with residents in these high-risk populations. She encountered people in Richmond who thought AIDS was developed by the U.S. government to kill African-Americans. Tate had to earn their trust before they were willing to be tested.
Neighborhood House also focused on African-American and Latino women. “A lot of African-American women have a husband or boyfriend coming out of prison where they don’t discuss what happens in prison,” said Tate.
Richmond resident Eric Devers, 42, tested positive for HIV in 2005. Devers fears the elimination of prevention programs could bring HIV/AIDS rates back to levels not seen since the beginning of the epidemic. “It should scare a lot of people,” he said of the budget cuts.
State budget cuts also required the county to cut the number of mobile HIV/AIDS testing and counseling events by half. Leivermann said the county will continue to provide testing at sites in the highest-risk areas. This means weekly testing at Neighborhood House in North Richmond will continue, while visits to other sites throughout the county will be eliminated or reduced.
The final component of the AIDS cuts is the elimination of the AIDS Nurse Case Management Program. It paid a full-time nurse to provide in-home medical care to 24-28 people with AIDS who did not qualify for Medi-Cal.
Tate and other former outreach workers aren’t giving up on AIDS prevention. The National Minority AIDS Council is hosting the 2009 United States Conference on AIDS in San Francisco Oct. 29-31. On October 29, from 2:30-5:30 p.m., Tate and eight other panelists will strategize about ways to reinstate eliminated programs.
Contra Costa County residents can call the AIDS Program at 925-313-6771 for dates, times and locations of mobile HIV/AIDS testing.
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