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Obama's early funding changes suggest HIV epidemic is priority
AIDS advocacy group applauds move
One of President Barack Obama's first actions as president was to lift the ban on federal funds for international groups that perform abortions or provide information or counseling on abortion.
This will also enable additional international AIDS service organizations to provide HIV prevention services using federal funding, expanding options in fighting the global pandemic.
"We are thrilled that the global gag rule was one of Obama's first acts as president," says Ronald Johnson, deputy executive director of AIDS Action in Washington, DC.
"We are confident that we will have a much more responsive administration to the domestic epidemic, as well as a responsible role for the United States in the international epidemic," Johnson says. "Funding for family planning programs will be much easier, and family planning programs will be eligible to receive U.S. funding that they have not been eligible to receive for the past eight years that the gag rule was reinstated by Bush."
Also, an additional $335 million for HIV, viral hepatitis, sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs), and tuberculosis (TB) funding was included in the U.S. House of Representatives' version of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
While language designating these funds to the prevention effort might not make it into the final bill, AIDS Action and other groups have been monitoring the legislative process to make certain the HIV/AIDS epidemic is not forgotten, Johnson says.
"We're working to ensure that prevention overall for HIV, STDs, viral hepatitis, and TB, is included in the final action on the economic recovery bill," Johnson adds.
Another bill that AIDS advocacy groups support is the Community AIDS and Hepatitis Prevention Act of 2009 (CAHP), introduced by Rep. Jose Serrano (D-NY). The bill would end the federal ban on syringe exchange funding, a ban that has existed since the AIDS epidemic began.
It's also possible for Obama to lift the ban by not including it in the Fiscal Year 2010 budget request, which was expected to be released by March, 2009, Johnson notes.
"We are working to request the administration not include the federal ban in the FY10 budget," Johnson adds. "And we're working to secure support in the House and Senate for removal of the federal ban."
HIV testing increases, but more is needed
Two years after the government implemented routine HIV testing for all patients ages 13-64 without regard to risk, public health officials say improvements have been made, yet still one in five people infected with the AIDS virus is unaware of his/her status.1
"With HIV, ignorance is not bliss; those who are unaware of their infection cannot seek treatment and are at least three times more likely to transmit the virus," says Veronica Miller, PhD, director of the Washington, DC-based Forum for Collaborative HIV Research. "Two years after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] recommended routine testing, initial successes show its potentially powerful impact, but major barriers keep it from being the national norm."
The forum, an independent public-private partnership designed to facilitate discussion on emerging issues in HIV research, convened the 2008 National Summit on HIV Diagnosis, Prevention, and Access to Care in Arlington, VA. Summit partners included the HIV Medicine Association in Arlington, VA; the CDC in Atlanta; Office of AIDS Research in Bethesda, MD; Kaiser Permanente in Oakland, CA; Human Resources and Services Administration in Rockville, MD; and the American Academy of HIV Medicine, National Black Gay Men's Advocacy Coalition, and Veterans Affairs (VA), all based in Washington, DC.
Some 300 HIV researchers, health care providers, and policy-makers gathered at the summit to share new data on the advances and barriers to early, routine HIV testing, which is considered a key to slowing the U.S. epidemic, which now encompasses more than 1.1 million Americans living with HIV.1
Numerous examples of progress toward HIV screening in health care settings have been noted since the release of the CDC's recommendations in September, 2006, reports Bernard Branson, MD, associate director for laboratory diagnostics in the Divisions of HIV/AIDS Prevention in the CDC's National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention.
The recommendations for routine screening without regard to risk also have been adopted by several professional organizations, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) in August 2008 and, most recently, the American College of Physicians in December 2008, he says.2,3
Many public health officials have taken steps to expand HIV screening, says Branson. Numerous localities and facilities have implemented testing initiatives, such as citywide testing initiatives in New York City and Washington, DC, to routine testing in emergency departments and health systems across the nation, he states.4
Several states have changed or are changing laws to allow for routine testing, Branson notes. Since 2006, 11 states have removed requirements for separate written consent, states Branson. They are: Arizona, California, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico, and North Carolina. (Editor's note: To check your state's requirements, visit the web site for the National HIV/AIDS Clinicians' Consultation Center, www.nccc.ucsf.edu. Under "Featured Highlights," click on "Updated Compendium of State HIV Testing Laws.")
A recent nationwide study of VA hospitals showed that fewer than 10% of inpatients and fewer than 5% of outpatients were tested during the year ending Sept. 30, 2006. Look to see VA testing numbers change: In October 2008, Congress passed and President Bush signed into law a repeal of an earlier prohibition of widespread HIV testing programs and requirements for separate written consent in the VA health system, says Branson. The VA is working to revise its internal guidelines, according to information presented at the 2008 summit.5
Headway is being made on the reimbursement front, reports Branson. An increasing number of insurers provide reimbursement for HIV screening, and a recent California law requires that all health insurers in that state must pay for HIV screening, he states.
"While more work remains to be done, we are encouraged by the progress that we have seen to date," states Branson.