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Other Views: Budget impasse hurts battle against AIDS

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Mike Gifford
November 29, 2013

Sunday, Dec. 1, marks World AIDS Day—a day set aside to remember loved ones lost to HIV and to rededicate ourselves to the fight against AIDS.

At the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, our HIV Medical Home has emerged as the leading model of care. Our integrated, comprehensive medical, dental, mental health, pharmacy and social services are delivering patient outcomes among the best in the nation. Seventy-eight percent of resource center patients have achieved an undetectable viral load, meaning their HIV is managed as well as possible. This is more than three times the national average. In fact, the federal government recently designated the resource center as the country’s first HIV Medical Home.

These clinical results are important for our patients and our communities. HIV patients with undetectable viral loads have fewer hospitalizations and emergency room visits. Recent research indicates they are far less likely to transmit HIV to others.

Demand for the successful, comprehensive services that the resource center provides to achieve these results continues to increase. In 2012, more than 400 new HIV-positive people needed health care in Wisconsin. Our state has more than 6,500 HIV-positive individuals. Another estimated 1,500 Wisconsinites are living with HIV but are unaware of their status.

I am heartened by recent examples of increased support for the fight against AIDS in Wisconsin. Gov. Walker and the Legislature provided important new funding this year to assure HIV patients have access to medications that keep them healthy. Wisconsin philanthropist Will Radler recently provided the first-ever $1 million gift for AIDS in Wisconsin to assure access to mental health care—one of the greatest barriers to health for HIV patients. These examples of leadership must become the model of responding to AIDS if we are ever going to end the epidemic.

We stand at a most critical moment in the fight against AIDS. The legacy of Ryan White hangs in the balance. We remember Ryan, a kindergartner with AIDS in the late 1980s, who simply wanted to go to school but was denied entry. His story spawned a national outburst of support culminating in President George H.W. Bush signing the Ryan White CARE Act in 1990—the signature national response to AIDS. The Ryan White Program invests wisely in clinics such as our resource center to save countless lives, prevent new infections and reduce health care costs. Yet, national leaders are quietly dismantling Ryan’s legacy.

Today, Ryan White-funded clinics across the country are suffering from the inability of national leaders to reach a fair deal on funding the federal government. Unsustainable budget cuts, such as sequestration, deny us the chance to save lives and reduce health care costs.

The struggle against AIDS in our state remains a terribly difficult battle. Two people with HIV die every week in Wisconsin. We need congressional leaders to agree on a budget that restores funding for the Ryan White Program and key safety net programs that will help save these lives and provide us the best opportunity to defeat AIDS.

Mike Gifford is president and CEO of the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin. Readers can contact him at 414-225-1567 or by email at mike.gifford@arcw.org.



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