December 1st marks World AIDS Day. The theme for this year is “Getting to Zero”—meaning zero new infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths. More than one million Americans are HIV-infected, and in some high-risk groups, infections are rising. Regional organizations working in HIV prevention report that what’s headed toward zero is their funding.
In 1981, doctors were first describing symptoms of a disease that would later become known as AIDS. Thirty years later, health professionals and advocates say they have gained a lot of ground in treating and preventing the disease—maybe so much so that for many people, HIV and AIDS don’t carry the same urgency they once did.
“People start to think of it almost as cured, when in fact we are far from it,” said Keith Egan, who heads the South Jersey AIDS Alliance. He says in addition to getting less attention, a slow economy and tight federal and state budgets have meant dwindling financial support for HIV- and AIDS-related work.
“We have had significant reductions in grant funding over the last two years, significant reductions in donations and some of our fundraising revenue,” said Egan.
Egan’s sentiments are echoed by advocates in Pennsylvania and Delaware, who all report that funding as well as concern for HIV and AIDS are diminishing.
Lee Carson is a researcher at Public Health Management Corporation in Philadelphia (disclosure: PHMC contributes to funding WHYY’s Health and Science desk). “Most organizations across the country—and Philadelphia is certainly no different—are really struggling with challenges of keeping their doors open,” said Carson. “They are struggling to keep the programs afloat that they have, and really having the kind of funding they need to have the impact on the epidemic that we desire.”
Advocates say they are committed to continue their efforts in preventing and treating HIV and AIDS, and that they have made important gains in terms of doing effective prevention work targeting specific high risk groups.