30 Years of HIV/AIDS: The war still continues

By Ruchi Naresh

June marks the 30th year of the discovery of the still-incurable HIV/AIDS. Worldwide, the disease has claimed 30 million lives. On a June 6 conference call, U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius addressed the progress being made in partnership with the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Health Resources and Services Administration and the Center for Medicaid and State Operations.

Sebelius said HIV infections in the U.S. have decreased from 130,000 a year in the 1980s to 56,000 a year in the 1990s. She also said that there are now more than 30 licensed drugs that are available in developed countries, and more people get tested for HIV.

But thereÕs much more work to do. Dr. Thomas Frieden, the director of the CDC, said 1.1 million Americans are infected with the virus and too many are unaware of it.

Last July President Barack Obama launched a National HIV/AIDS Strategy. The strategy will help channel resources to the communities most in need with six government agencies taking the lead.

The HRSA started the Ryan White Program in 1990 in order to help those with the disease who do not have insurance. The $2.3 billion program has been instrumental in funding treatments and other services to people living with HIV/AIDS.

Today the program is available in every state and supports almost 1,300 sites. The grant includes the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, also known as ADAP. Mary Wakefield from the HRSA announced an additional $50 million funds for ADAP for the 2011 fiscal year.

The CDC has also increased its domestic budget by $31 million to re-work its overall portfolio. The CDC is working with ObamaÕs National HIV/AIDS strategy on two initiatives: to expand HIV testing and care for people living with the disease, especially for men who have sex with men, which Frieden noted is the only group showing a steady increase in infection rates.

Frieden said the other initiative will encourage those who have HIV to decrease their risk of spreading the disease by taking medication consistently.

The conference call also addressed the important role of Medicaid. Beginning October 2011, ObamaÕs Affordable Care Act will pay for certain community based services as well as other ones. The second option to the Care Act has already been in effect since January, providing care coordination for terminally ill patients including HIV individuals.

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