It's been a busy World AIDS Day, as folks in and out of the halls of power have sought to remind us all that the epidemic is still with us. At one end of the spectrum, the White House announced new funding for domestic treatment initiatives. At the other end, New Yorkers were acting up, drawing a link between tax cuts for the rich and AIDS deaths.
Thirteen demonstrators were arrested in New York City after blocking traffic on Broadway, near the Zuccotti Park site where Occupy Wall Street camped, while protesting the city's cuts to AIDS services.
"Bloomberg opposes taxes that force the rich to pay their fare share and supports policies that rob poor New Yorkers with AIDS of income and lifesaving services, such as housing. He is a veritable scoundrel," said Charles King, president of Housing Works, in a statement.
King's organization helps members of the community affected by HIV/AIDS find affordable housing, among other services. But advocates say that sort of crucial support to low-income people living with HIV is getting increasingly difficult to offer, thanks to budget cuts.
Demonstrator Housing Works protest Thursday.
According to Housing Works, Bloomberg has cut more than $13 million for HIV/AIDS housing and services during the past year.
"The reality is that Wall Street crashed our economy, and now politicians are saying there's less money for basic needs Felix Rivera-Pitre, a VOCAL-NY leader who is living with HIV/AIDS and currently in a homeless shelter.
Meanwhile, President Obama announced he is shifting an additional $50 million in toward funding for domestic HIV/AIDS treatment. The bulk of that money, $35 million, will go to support the the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, or ADAP, which is a federal-state partnership that helps low-income people living with HIV/AIDS pay for their expensive, lifesaving medications.
Those receiving benefits from ADAP are disproportionately black, as is the overall population of people living with HIV in the U.S. More than 9,000 people are on waiting lists for treatment through ADAP, which has been chronically underfunded for more than a decade. According the Obama administration, the additional funding will enable states to reduce their waiting lists by nearly one-third.
Earlier this week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that less than a third of people living with HIV/AIDS in the U.S. are both in treatment and succeeding at it.
Keeping those living with HIV/AIDS healthy is critical to preventing the spread of the disease. On Wednesday Colorlines.com's MIchael Lavers and Kai Wright explained the CDC report. Reducing what's called a patient's "viral load" is a core part of HIV treatment:
The more virus that's circulating in your blood, the weaker your immune system becomes and the more likely you are to develop a fatal illness. Treatment specialists believe a viral count under 550 copies of the virus per milliliter of blood is the magic number to stay healthy; go above that mark and you should start taking anti-retroviral drugs, they say.
But CDC officials have also said that a viral load below 200 meaningfully reduces the risk of transmitting the virus to a sexual partner. Tuesday, the CDC reported that only 28 percent of the estimated 1.2 million Americans living with HIV have viral counts that low. That news comes as a dampener to big, promising news earlier this year, when researchers found that successful treatment lowered the likelihood of transmitting HIV by a shocking 96 percent.