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New National Policy On HIV Cuts Funds To Kansas

As part of national HIV awareness month in July Morning Edition has been looking at the state of the global fight against HIV and AIDS.

This morning we hear about how a recent change in public policy intended to reform HIV care will deplete services in Kansas and many other mid-western states.

Two years ago the Obama Administration released the nation’s first ever strategy to combat HIV and AIDS.

The strategy aims to increase access to care and improve health outcomes for those who know they are infected, reduce infection rates in high-risk communities, and increase the coordination between HIV programs nationwide.

Travis Barnhart, the HIV prevention director at the Kansas department of health and environment, says for Kansas this meant cuts.

“One of the major things that really impacted Kansas when that came out was that the national HIV AIDS strategy really focuses on putting funding where the epidemic is occurring most,” says Barnhart.

“So in low incidence states like Kansas where we don’t have a lot of new HIV infections every year, that meant that we were getting a prevention funding cut, whereas areas that have a higher amount of HIV prevalence and incidence the funding shifted around so they are getting more money.”

This year was the first year those cuts were felt in Kansas, and further cuts will be implemented over the next 4 years, taking the state HIV prevention budget from $1.7 million in 2011 to between $800,000 and $1 million in 2016.

Barnhart says the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which administers the federal funds to states, has de-prioritized programs that reach out to high-risk individuals that test negative for HIV.

“They really want us to focus more on working with people who have HIV already to change their behavior so they aren’t infecting people with HIV through their sexual behaviors or other behaviors,” he says.

For Positive Directions, an AIDS service organization in Wichita, this year’s funding cuts amounted to about $50,000.

Executive Director Cody Patton says along with the cuts from the CDC, funding sources all around have been getting tighter, forcing him to reach out to his supporters.

“That was the first time in 20 years that I sent out a letter that said, hey things are getting tight,” says Patton.

Positive directions has had a number of prevention programs since it began in 1991, including outreach programs for sex workers and their client.

Their most recent program targets leaders in the gay community, educating them to talk about HIV and safer sex in their social circles.

Under the new CDC strategy there will be no funding for prevention in Kansas, aside from testing and condom distribution.

“It is going to leave the Midwest and lower incidence states struggling to figure out how to do prevention,” says Patton, “and what is going to happen in places like Wichita?”

“Sedgwick county is the largest populated in the state, it also has the largest number of HIV. If there’s not somebody getting the message out to somebody on an ongoing basis, what is going to happen?”

Bert Pearce is the prevention coordinator at Positive Directions. He says outreach is an important part of treating HIV and AIDS in the community.

“An infection is a situation that is frustrating and that we believe shouldn’t be happening,” he says, “and getting that information out to people is the best chance that we have at stemming those infections, but if we don’t have the programming its going to be hard to do.”

Patton says while on one level he understands the CDC’s new approach of funding the most affected areas, he doesn’t think they looked at the whole picture.

“What I don’t think they took into consideration is what states put in money, what cities put in money for prevention.”

“Kansas doesn’t put but a drop into the bucket. Wichita puts nothing, Sedgwick County puts nothing,” says Patton.

“Those big metropolitan areas, they have huge corporations and businesses, it is easier when they do fundraisers to get corporate sponsorships through them, Wichita, we are Midwest, HIV is not a big priority.”

With private funding Positive Directions will be able to continue it’s prevention programs through the year.

Unless Patton is able to get alternative funding, prevention will be scratched from it’s list of services come January.