The Obama administration has made quiet but significant HIV prevention news. At a White House ceremony, officials announced two new initiatives: one supporting new black leadership on AIDS, and a media blitz aiming to “refocus national attention” on the epidemic. From a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statement:
"In the United States, every 9 1/2 minutes someone’s brother, sister, best friend, father or mother becomes infected with HIV,” said Jeffrey Crowley, Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy. “Yet, research shows that many of those becoming infected do not recognize their risk. This is a major concern, because lack of knowledge contributes to increased risk behaviors.”
The White House says the $45 million media blitz will be the first national HIV communication campaign in 10 years. (I can’t immediately confirm this, but it sounds like a conservative estimate, frankly.) The campaign will drive people to a fact-packed Web site and online tool for finding an HIV testing site near you. A second stage will focus in to promote testing among black women and black gay and bisexual men.
The black leadership initiative has been in the works for some time. It will give 14 mainstream black organizations—institutions like the NAACP and American Urban Radio Networks—money to hire a full-time staff person to direct AIDS programming. My colleague at the Black AIDS Institute, director Phill Wilson, calls the initiative “tremendously important” and lauds the CDC for finding money to support it. Black AIDS groups have been working for a while to convince both public and private AIDS funders to put money into traditional black groups already rooted in the community.
But it’s also important to point out that none of this is new money. As noted in an Institute report I co-authored in February, the CDC has been and continues to be woefully underfunded—meaning initiatives like these require it to rob one program in order to pay another. I’ll quote myself:
The problem is that even targeting the whole of CDC’s paltry HIV prevention budget toward black communities wouldn’t do the job. The CDC’s annual HIV-prevention budget has never topped $800 million—a fraction of what the U.S. spends on the Iraq war in a week. Indeed, the prevention budget peaked in fiscal year 2001, at the Bush administration’s start, with just $767 million. It has declined or remained flat every year since then. The only area of the prevention budget that has increased in recent years is that for testing, though even that money has actually come from moving cash out of other piles, according to the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project.