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Battling the AIDS Gap

Battling the AIDS Gap

Budget woes at every level are taking a toll on Oakland, Calif.'s ability to combat HIV, particularly among hard-hit groups like African-Americans, advocates say.

Alameda County experienced a 64% overall reduction in state funding for HIV/AIDS care and treatment in 2009, said Kabir Hypolite, director of the county's Office of AIDS Administration. Money for HIV education and prevention has been slashed to $661,000 and now comes primarily from the federal government. In contrast, the county had $1.5 million in combined state and federal funds for these activities in 2007-08.

"Fortunately, California still receives federal funding for prevention and care activities, the two areas that experienced significant reductions in state funding this fiscal year," said Dr. Michelle Roland, chief of the state Office of AIDS. State budget cuts to HIV/AIDS programs reflect the "unprecedented fiscal challenge [California] is facing," she said.

As of mid-2008, non-Hispanic blacks made up 12.2% of the county's population but 44.6% of its cumulative HIV/AIDS cases, said Barbara Green-Ajufo, director of Alameda's HIV/AIDS epidemiology surveillance program.

Key to stemming the area's epidemic is diagnosing HIV earlier. In 2007, Mayor Ron Dellums started "Get Screened Oakland" (GSO), an initiative to encourage people to learn their HIV status. The city itself does not offer testing but instead subcontracts and partners with AIDS service organizations. In the wake of reduced funding, however, many of these ASOs have limited the scope of their target areas and reduced staff and hours, said Marsha Martin, the initiative's director.

"The resources for supporting outreach and education have gone away," said Martin, adding that GSO has applied for additional funds to help offset the loss.

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