Since 1987, December 1st has been dedicated to raising awareness about HIV/AIDS with World AIDS Day. In 2011, people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States have much be thankful about with respect to the progress achieved over the years. HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence with the advent of highly active anti-retroviral therapy (HAART); HIV/AIDS is protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); and President Barack Obama was the first president to unveil a National AIDS Strategy to combat HIV/AIDS in America. But not all the news is promising, and there remains much work to be done. Reflecting upon the millions of lives lost in the struggle against HIV/AIDS, it is important to remember that there remains negative stigma associated with the disease; thirty-six states have HIV criminalization laws on the books; and in the wealthiest nation there are 6,595 people living with HIV/AIDS in twelve states on waiting lists under the AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAPs).
People living with HIV/AIDS have come to expect proclamations on World AIDS Day from the President, Congress, Governors, State Legislators, Mayors, City Councils, AIDS Service Organizations, State Health Departments, and so on. Whereas proclamations make us all feel good, they do little to solve the ongoing ADAP crisis that has allowed thousands of people living with HIV/AIDS to fall through the cracks of our public health system. So, it begs the question: What do these proclamations do to help the 75 people in Alabama, 3,213 people in Florida, 1,525 people in Georgia, 5 people in Idaho, 475 people in Louisiana, 9 people in Montana, 9 people in Nebraska, 95 people in North Carolina, 0 people in Ohio, 65 people in South Carolina, 13 people in Utah, and 1,111 people in Virginia presently being denied access to appropriate, timely care and treatment?
While there remain a few ideological "Talibangelicals" who view HIV/AIDS as God's "punishment" for behavior or lifestyle, Americans have mostly opened their hearts and their minds to accepting and helping people living with the disease. By in large, politicians of both political parties have recognized the importance of stable, robust HIV/AIDS programs - including ADAPs. That is why what marks the 24th celebration of World AIDS Day, how can thousands of people living with a potentially life-threatening disease be asked to WAIT for their life-saving medications?
Read related CNN Story, "The long wait"
Yesterday, Senators Richard Burr (R-NC), Tom Coburn (R-OK), Michael Enzi (R-WY) and Johnny Isakson (R-GA) sent a letter to State Department Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton and Health & Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius seeking to find a solution to the lingering ADAP crisis facing thousands of people living with HIV/AIDS languishing on waiting lists. Their letter comes on the heels of similar requests made by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), as well as Representatives Alcee Hastings (D-FL-23), Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL-20), Ted Deutch (D-FL-19), and Frederica Wilson (D-FL-17) to HHS. Each of these lawmakers have been fighting to secure additional federal funding since the crisis started over two years ago.
[Photo: Burr-Coburn-Enzi-Isakson ADAP Letter]
And today, President Obama announced he has directed HHS to increase funding for domestic HIV/AIDS treatment by $50 million, including $35 million to ADAPs. This represents the second time in as many years whereby the President has reprogrammed funding to the cash-strapped program. While the additional funding is welcomed news, it remains short of the level necessary to eliminate the ADAP waiting lists entirely.
World AIDS Day is important because it highlights a disease that continues to impact millions of people in this country, and abroad. The proclamations are important because they symbol the national commitment to eradicate the disease. But more important are the solutions designed to help people (and help people help themselves) RIGHT NOW! After all, it are those solutions that are a true testament to nation's commitment to fight HIV/AIDS!