Prevention Efforts by Community Groups Face Cuts
By SUZANNE SATALINE And SHELLY BANJONew York City's efforts to stem the spread of HIV/AIDS could shrink under the proposed cuts in the city budget, as the total number of new cases has been declining. But health officials are worried about a rise in HIV diagnoses among men who have sex with men.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg's budget proposal for the new fiscal year calls for slicing $428,000 from the current year's $14.6 million spent on HIV prevention efforts done under contracts with community-based organizations, officials with the city Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said. The cuts would amount to about a 3% reduction in dollars spent on AIDS prevention contracts for the fiscal year starting July 1.
While diagnoses overall have dropped, they are climbing among men who have sex with men. The city noted 1,614 cases of HIV among this group in 2008, up less than 1% from the previous year, but nearly 6% higher than in 2004, when that number was 1,527.
The city noted that 330 men in this group had concurrent AIDS diagnoses—a diagnosis within a month of a positive HIV test. That's an increase of 30 cases, or 1% more, than in 2007 and 18% more than 2004. Proportionately, more black and Hispanic men are affected in this category, health officials said.
Health officials and health-care workers say the rise has been caused by greater risk-taking among young men.
Men under the age of 30 "have no recollection'' of the 1980s, when contracting AIDS was a fast death sentence, said Monica Sweeney, the city's assistant health commissioner. "The fear factor is completely missing." Young men also have the false belief, she said, that if they contract AIDS, "all you have to do is take one pill a day.''
Harlem United, a social-services organization that relies on city funding to perform prevention work, said the $300,000 city grant it received has been used to train 120 volunteers to talk with men in online chat rooms, urging participants to get tested and to use condoms.
"You infiltrate the social network,'' said Sara Gillen, vice president for the group's prevention division. Over time, "we're training them to prepare them for a lifetime of prevention strategies," she said.
Nationwide, AIDS organizations have reported a sharp decrease in federal aid and donations. Part of the reason is donor fatigue: In New York, AIDS has moved from being viewed as an epidemic to an endemic problem, according to Len McNally, director of the NYC AIDS fund at the New York Community Trust.
The trust, the largest private funder of New York City nonprofits, saw private funding it receives for AIDS-related causes drop to $1.7 million in 2008 from $2.3 million in 2003.
Regarding the proposed budget cuts, a spokesman for the mayor's office said it doesn't tell each department what specifically to cut, and referred comments to the health department. A health department spokeswoman said: "We have to make cuts across the board. We're preserving the highest quality prevention programs."
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