Lee backfills HIV funding
by Seth Hemmelgarn
San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee has agreed to backfill an estimated $2.7 million in HIV-related funding cuts that had been expected for next fiscal year.
Representatives from Lee's office announced the move at a recent hearing called for by gay Supervisor Scott Wiener.
"I'm thrilled that Mayor Lee is acting to ensure that our safety net for those living with HIV will be maintained and that San Francisco will continue its innovative work to reduce new infections," Wiener, who had called the May 7 hearing to assess federal budget cuts to HIV services, said in a news release. "Lives depend on this funding, and today we again have demonstrated San Francisco's support for those living with and at risk for HIV."
Wiener added that the city has for years made up for gaps in federal funding.
"We've consistently backfilled federal HIV budget cuts in our local budget, and today, we've again shown our commitment as a city to combat this disease."
The cuts for care services through the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Modernization Act, as well as prevention work through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, had been meant for the 2014-15 fiscal year. San Francisco officials are in the midst of preparing next year's budget.
Since 2011, Lee and the Board of Supervisors "have backfilled more than $20 million in federal HIV cuts," according to Wiener's office.
After the funding restoration was announced, people who had come to the hearing at the supervisors' Budget and Finance Committee to plead for help expressed their gratitude and spoke of the funding's importance.
Michael Smithwick, executive director of Maitri hospice, said he was grateful but added, "AIDS is not a problem that's over, especially for the poor."
Others at the hearing also spoke of the need for more assistance to Latinos in order to help them overcome barriers when it comes to preventing HIV.
Jeff Sheehy, who's openly gay and HIV-positive, previously served as AIDS policy adviser to former Mayor Gavin Newsom
Sheehy spoke of progress in the city's efforts to cut the number of new HIV infections and said, "I never thought we would be able to talk about getting to zero."
At the regular meeting of the city's HIV Prevention Planning Council May 8, Dr. Susan Scheer, who's with the Applied Research, Community Health Epidemiology and Surveillance unit of the city's Health Department, also noted the progress.
Scheer presented data showing that there were 332 new HIV diagnoses in the city in 2013. She said she's "very happy" the numbers are trending down, adding, "We were a little worried in 2012," when there were 428 new HIV diagnoses.
In his revised state budget for next year, which was released Tuesday, California Governor Jerry Brown put forward some proposals affecting people living with AIDS.
Those proposals include $26.1 million in federal funds to add two new hepatitis C virus drugs to the AIDS Drug Assistance Program formulary. Many people living with AIDS are co-infected with hepatitis C.
According to Brown's office, the ADAP Medical Advisory Committee recommended the drugs "because they provide a significant improvement in treatment, have a better cure rate, and require a shorter treatment duration."