HIV Budget Cuts: A Life-or-Death Matter
Facing budget shortfalls, states are cutting medicine funds for low-income HIV patients -- and a coalition of black church folks is fighting back.
Favorite and Warnock are both members of the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS, a nonprofit designed to educate and mobilize local black communities around HIV/AIDS. On the issue of ADAP funding, the organization argues that the government's failure to sufficiently support the program is not only morally outrageous but also illogical from public health and economic angles.
A recent clinical trial released by the National Institutes of Health found that HIV-positive people who received early treatment reduced their risk of passing the disease on by 96 percent. Furthermore, while HIV medications are expensive, the cost to taxpayers rises astronomically if untreated patients require frequent hospitalizations.
NBLCA also helped develop the National Black Clergy for the Elimination of HIV/AIDS Act, which would shore up more funding for prevention, testing and treatment in African-American communities. Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) introduced the bill in April, and it now has 23 co-sponsors.
"We're very serious," said Warnock, who, along with other black clergy members around the country, is lobbying Congress. "If we can spend $2 billion a week in Afghanistan with no obvious end in sight, we should be able to fight a war against HIV/AIDS."
In the meantime, black church leaders nationwide are meeting with local legislators on ADAP cuts, and continuing to engage their congregations about everything from the importance of knowing their status to collecting offerings for care organizations. With the disease's ties to sexuality, it is work that hasn't always meshed easily with the pulpit.
"We've had some pushback from other pastors who say that we really shouldn't be involved in this," said Favorite, who became an AIDS activist four years ago upon seeing the disease's devastation in his community. "Primarily it's because they don't understand what's happening."
Warnock also got involved after taking notice of the high AIDS rate in his church community at the time. Blasé attitudes over the recent budget cuts, he said, also reflect a general misperception that the epidemic is under control. "In some ways, the successes in treatment that we've seen over the past 30 years are creating a new set of problems," he said. "Because we don't see the emaciated bodies that we saw in the 1980s and early '90s, people have become very relaxed. But this virus is very much with us."
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.