Awareness, funding still needed to fight HIV/AIDS
When HIV/AIDS was new and terrifying, the motto of the day was "silence equals death." Silence now seems to be winning the day, as young men who have sex with men (MSM) appear to have convinced themselves that the infection is no longer such a big deal.
Health officials need to continue to distribute condoms, encourage testing and treat those who are ill. Leaders of communities with HIV/AIDS need to start speaking out again, because the fight against AIDS is far from over.
The rapid HIV test needs to be implemented on all Islands, now that we can use this valuable resource. Testing programs seems to be deficient with the HIV rapid test only being used at the Life Foundation on Oahu. Six hundred rapid HIV tests have been performed since September by the Life Foundation, of which six individuals tested positive for HIV. Many people tested by the older, slower method never get their test results.
Hawaii's proposed Fiscal Year 2008 budget from federal and state resources will reduce funding for some of the HIV/AIDS programs here. Total funding has been declining for several years, according to the Department of Health. Peter Whiticar at the Department of Health affirmed that there will be less money for HIV programs this coming year.
The programs that could be affected include AIDS education and prevention, HIV counseling and testing, AIDS epidemiology studies and surveillance, and Hawaii's AIDS drug assistance program. Also, extremely important housing, food assistance and dental programs currently do not have enough funding. All these programs are essential in keeping people healthy who are living with HIV, and in preventing the spread of the virus.
Hawaii will pay more in health care costs in the long run if it continues to accept and adopts such ill-timed AIDS funding cuts. It's time to urge the governor and Legislature to quickly restore public health funding for HIV/AIDS through legislation.
Hawaii's House Bill 1890 is meant to supplement the federal funds received from the Ryan White CARE Act Reauthorization Bill (HR 6143). HB 1890 is currently in the House Finance Committee, waiting for Chairman Marcus Oshiro to call for a hearing. This past year, there have been problems in housing, food and dental programs due to lack of funding. And so much more could be done, but isn't, because of tight budget constraints.
Names reporting for HIV will take effect as soon as Gov. Linda Lingle signs on to the administrative rules change. Then if will take years before we start getting close approximate counts of the number of people living with HIV here in the islands. We're also faced with the additional burden of care and support services for new cases. Hawaii's AIDS service organizations are already straining to provide adequate services for known cases of HIV.
HIV/AIDS isn't over. And it's time to speak up and support appropriate legislation.
Scott Orton, an HIV/AIDS awareness advocate, lives in Honolulu.