Same Song, Second Verse

Posted in: News 2005-Older

STATEMENT: The National HIV Prevention Conference

Same Song, Second Verse

Another AIDS meeting and another batch of gloomy data show the continued blackening of this epidemic. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told us yesterday that African Americans now make up 47 percent of people living with HIV in the nation. We’re just 13 percent of the overall population. Black gay and bisexual men were once again a woefully remarkable group. Forty-six percent of Black “men who have sex with men” in a new five-city CDC study were positive, and two-thirds didn’t know it.

These numbers come as Washington prepares another year of budget cuts for HIV prevention programs. The CDC’s HIV and STD prevention budget was $738 million in fiscal year 2004—an already inadequate sum given the challenges the epidemic presents. Congress cut it to $731 million in fiscal year 2005, and the White House has proposed yet another $4 million cut for the coming year.

Federal public health officials are frantically searching for ways to interrupt this epidemic, but Congress and the White House have steadily undermined them. As study after study presented in Atlanta has shown, we already know that targeted, intensive HIV prevention works. That sort of program doesn’t come cheap.

The administration has rightly stressed the need for more accountability in HIV prevention. If we invest in a program—both financially and communally—we need to know whether it works. As the CDC’s new data shows, we no longer have the luxury of guess work. We must find ways to evaluate prevention programs, qualitatively and quantitatively.

The need for responsibility and accountability, however, does not stop with those who are crafting prevention programs. The administration must be accountable as well.

Time and again, small, community-based organizations have complained that they are overwhelmed with paper work and auditing, which limits their ability to actually run the programs they’ve been funded to execute. These small, grassroots groups are too often those working in Black and Latino neighborhoods. As we demand more proof of that their work is effective, we must also make sure they have the resources necessary to provide it. Otherwise, we merely insure that community-based organizations get crowded out of the prevention process—a development certain to undermine our efforts in the end.

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