Friday, February 9, 2007

Journalism 011

State and federal cuts for HIV and AIDS programs have Jessica Almeida of Brockton and other health advocates around the state concerned about their ability to treat patients.

“It may affect our ability to provide access to medication for people in the HIV drug assistance program,” said Almeida, director of the case management program at Brockton Area Multi-Services Inc.

Such concerns were the focus of a lobbying day at the Statehouse on Wednesday as AIDS activists lobbied state legislators for an additional $5 million in next year's budget.

The activists said the money is needed to make up a possible $3 million cut in federal funding this year and a steady decline in state funding for clinics and counseling.

Local HIV-AIDS programs, such as the one run by BAMSI, the largest counseling and education center for Brockton area residents, rely on lobbying groups such as Project ABLE (AIDS Budget Legislative Effort) to help secure their annual funding.

Brockton has the ninth largest population of people living with HIV-AIDS in Massachusetts. More than 23 Brockton residents are diagnosed each year, according to the state Department of Public Health.

The possible shortage in federal HIV-AIDS funding is due to a reallocation of funds to states with less developed HIV-AIDS programs than Massachusetts.

“It's not that Massachusetts isn't in need, it's just that there are other areas that may not have received as much funding as Massachusetts in previous years,” said Mary Ann Hart, a coordinator with Project ABLE.

Project ABLE's lobbying efforts came in conjunction with National Black HIV-AIDS Awareness Day. Blacks and Latinos make up 72 percent of Brockton residents with HIV-AIDS.

“HIV is colorblind, but society isn't,” said Rep. Marie St. Fleur, D-Boston, the vice chairwoman for the House Ways and Means Committee. “The real barrier to health care is race.”

Copyright 2007 Enterprise

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