It is National Black HIV Awareness Day, an effort to mobilize HIV testing and treatment and raise awareness of HIV among Black Americans. Blacks are disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS, bearing the burden of more new HIV infections, AIDS diagnoses, and HIV-related deaths than any other racial or ethnic group in the U.S. Nearly half of the people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States are Black. Moreover, Blacks are less likely than whites to be insured, and Blacks with HIV/AIDS likely face greater barriers to accessing care than their white counterparts.
HIV advocates and public health officials are increasingly focused on the link between HIV infection and poverty. Black Americans are at the intersection of high rates of HIV and high rates of poverty. As a result, cuts to services are acutely felt by Black Americans living with HIV/AIDS. Meanwhile, New York Governor Cuomo has recently released his budget, calling for 10 percent cuts to all state agencies, including the Department of Health and the Human Resources Administration, which together administer the bulk of social and medical HIV/AIDS services provided by the state.
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Supportive services are known to improve health outcomes. The National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States, released last July, noted that supportive services “are essential for certain populations facing difficulties with everyday needs.” In the words of Celeste, a woman living with HIV, “Cuts to services may be a quick fix, but in the long run they will only make the situation worse.” Social services, such as case management, supportive housing, and legal services that help people stay housed, access nutritious food, and access quality medical treatment, are critical to connecting people to treatment and care, and supporting the most vulnerable people living with and at risk for HIV/AIDS.
Investment in support services, as well as economic empowerment programs are essential elements of a comprehensive domestic HIV prevention strategy. It is in economic downturns when assistance to poor people living with HIV, and at risk of contracting HIV, is most essential. Abandoning these services now is not only myopic, it’s a threat to the public health, and to the health of the Black community.