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Obama Outlines HIV/AIDS Strategy, But Funds Still Lacking

By Joseph Erbentraut in News on Jul 14, 2010 4:30PM

President Obama's Tuesday announcement of a National HIV/AIDS Strategy, the first of its kind to come from a White House administration, outlined a number of ambitious goals to curb the spread of HIV/AIDS domestically, but failed to address where funding to achieve such goals would be available for already-strapped service providers in Chicago and nationwide.

The strategy, which has reportedly been in development by a coalition of HIV/AIDS advocates for the past three years, laid out three primary goals: Reducing HIV incidence (by 25 percent nationwide over the next five years), increasing access to care and optimizing health outcomes and reducing HIV-related health disparities. The plan was applauded cautiously by service and advocacy organizations in Chicago, home to an estimated 22,000 people living with AIDS and approximately 1000 new HIV diagnoses annually.

Mark Ishaug, president and CEO of the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, acknowledged Obama's word as encouraging, but joined other advocates in noting the strategy's limited impact without some green and community involvement to back it up. "This day marks the culmination of years of hard work and commitment from the HIV/AIDS community,” Ishaug said in a press release. "We thank the President and his staff for delivering on their promise of developing a National HIV/AIDS Strategy and for doing so in a manner that is inclusive of so many diverse voices. Now we must transform the document’s inspiring vision into reality - and that will be no small task.”

The long overdue federal strategy on HIV/AIDS indeed arrives at a difficult time for HIV/AIDS service providers in Chicago. The Illinois AIDS Drug Assistance Program, which provides medication to low-income people, may still be forced to cap its enrollments, which more than a dozen other states have already done. Additionally, the Tribune reports many providers are struggling to fund testing, housing and prevention programs that seek to reach the communities most at risk of infection, including gay and bisexual male and African American communities.

Beau Gratzer, chief operating officer of the Howard Brown Health Center, told the Trib that while the strategy provided a "great framework" for his and other agencies to work from, achieving the strategy's goals will ultimately depend on funding.

"[T]he operational plan for how it will actually be rolled out is something we still need to see in order to determine if it is realistic," Gratzer said. "It is easy to say we will reduce new infections, but it is hard to see how to do that without new funding resources."