AIDS groups defend programs

    HIV and AIDS spending by the city of Philadelphia is coming under scrutiny by the Pennsylvania auditor general.

    Pennsylvania’s auditor general has found hundreds of thousands of dollars for HIV and AIDS spending in Philadelphia are either unaccounted for or unnecessary. But AIDS groups around the city are pushing back — saying their programs are not wasteful.

    The audit of Philadelphia’s spending of state funds for HIV and AIDS prevention highlights waste, potential fraud and a duplicate bill for more than two hundred thousand dollars.

    A small portion of the funds were spent on incentives for people who participated in prevention programs — including t-shirts, a trip to an amusement park, and money. The auditor general calls them a waste – especially in a time of budget constraints.

    Bass: To me they don’t seem out of whack at all.

    Sarah Bass is a public health professor at Temple University.

    Bass: Incentives is not something that’s new. And it’s certainly not something that the Philadelphia Department of Health created. These are things that we do in biomedical research all the time.

    AIDS organizations that use incentives say they get people into programs who might otherwise not participate. Jane Shull is the executive director of Philadelphia Fight, one of the criticized programs.

    Shull: It’s extremely well established in the scientific literature that incentives are effective in getting people in the door.

    Shull says incentives are necessary to reach out to people at high risk of contracting or spreading AIDS, such as those who are fearful of the medical system or who recently left jail.

    Kevin Burns is the executive director of Action AIDS.

    Burns: For example if we’re doing an educational presentation for consumers and we don’t offer assistance for transportation, tokens for people to get back and forth, and don’t offer food at the event usually we will notice the attendance is not as good.

    Burns says if people don’t come, they are less likely to change their behavior and prevent the spread of HIV. And while incentives don’t necessarily change behavior, the programs might.

    The Philadelphia health department and the Pennsylvania auditor general did not respond to requests for comment.

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