Political Notes: Biden administration pumps $20M toward ending HIV epidemic

  • by Matthew S. Bajko, Assistant Editor
  • Monday August 29, 2022
Share this Post:
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. Photo: Rick Gerharter
U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra. Photo: Rick Gerharter

The Biden administration is awarding $20 million to more than five-dozen health centers across the country to help fund their efforts toward ending the HIV epidemic. Federal health officials have set a goal of reducing new HIV infections in the U.S. by 90% by 2030.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra announced the funding allocation August 23 at the National Ryan White Conference on HIV Care and Treatment. It will help to expand HIV prevention, testing, and treatment services at 64 health centers, with more than $5.5 million awarded to 17 California service providers.

"Community health centers are critical to preventing and treating HIV, especially when it comes to reaching underserved communities," stated Becerra, formerly California's attorney general and a member of Congress from the Los Angeles area. "Today's awards will ensure high quality HIV prevention, testing, and treatment services are more readily available for Americans who need it the most."

The South of Market Health Center, whose legal name is San Francisco Medical Center Outpatient Improvement Programs Inc., is receiving $325,000. Across the bay, the West Oakland Health Council was also awarded $325,000.

Neither agency responded to requests for comment by the deadline to do so Friday, August 26.

Carl Sciortino, the executive vice president of external relations at Boston-based Fenway Health, told the Bay Area Reporter the latest round of federal funds "is a major investment in HIV prevention" that will be "well spent" by the local health centers. (In Massachusetts an award of $325,000 is going to the Mattapan Community Health Center Inc.)

"We have the ability to end the HIV epidemic by ensuring PrEP is accessible to our most vulnerable and underserved communities. Less than 10% of people who would benefit from PrEP are currently taking it, and there are significant racial inequities with only roughly 3% of Black and 6% of Hispanic/Latinx individuals compared to 26% of white Americans accessing this tool," wrote Sciortino in an emailed reply, referring to national figures compiled by Emory University's Rollins School of Public Health in partnership with Gilead Sciences Inc. and the Center for AIDS Research at Emory University on the AIDSVu website. "Community health centers are ideal to make this kind of critical investment as we are already established to engage and care for underserved communities."

The health centers are meant to leverage the federal funding for expanding access to HIV medications, such as post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) or PrEP, connecting people to care, and coordinating services for patients. It is also meant to strengthen partnerships among the service providers themselves that were awarded Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program funding.

"We have the tools to end the HIV epidemic in the U.S., including testing and medication to prevent and treat HIV. Yet, tools alone won't end the epidemic — we need to support trusted community leaders in their work to engage people in care," stated Health Resources and Services Administration Administrator Carole Johnson. "Today's awards make these critical investments by building on HRSA's long-standing support for the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program to expand our HIV prevention and treatment work in community health centers."

According to the latest federal HIV figures, as of 2019, about 1.2 million people in the U.S. were living with HIV. New cases of HIV have been in a steady rate of decline for years, falling 8% from 37,800 in 2015 to 34,800 in 2019.

More than $100 million in federal funds previously had been awarded to more than 300 health centers toward meeting the Ending HIV Epidemic initiative. It is part of President Joe Biden's National HIV/AIDS Strategy 2022-2025 released late last year.

"We have many of the tools necessary to substantially curb the HIV epidemic in the United States," stated Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "This funding award is an important contribution to ensuring that vital HIV testing, prevention tools, treatment and access to care reach the local communities where they can have the most impact."

Funding for HIV programs and services continues to be lacking in California, according to advocates. As the Bay Area Reporter noted in July, of the $105 million in new funding a coalition of nonprofit service providers had sought in the state's 2022-2023 fiscal year budget to address HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, as well as the drug overdose epidemic, a mere $38 million was allocated.

A coalition of agencies form across the state continues to call on state lawmakers to take further actions to fund increased sexual health services and harm reduction efforts for those with drug addictions.

In a statement to the B.A.R. Craig E. Thompson, CEO of APLA Health in Los Angeles, hailed the latest round of federal funding toward ending the country's HIV epidemic. His agency two years ago had received funding under the national initiative; this year four other agencies in the city were each allocated $325,000.

"As we saw with COVID-19, and now monkeypox, health centers have a unique ability to reach communities that have long been marginalized and underserved by the broader healthcare system — low-income communities, LGBTQ+ communities, and communities of color," stated Thompson. "APLA Health was grateful to be one of the first health centers funded as part of the federal EHE initiative in 2020. This additional funding has allowed us to expand HIV testing and link hundreds of Black and Latino gay and bisexual men and transgender individuals to PrEP. We applaud the Biden administration for continuing to build on this important program and funding even more health centers nationwide."

A full list of the health centers receiving the last round of funding broken down by state can be found here.

Due to the Labor Day weekend, the Political Notes column will return Monday, September 12.

Keep abreast of the latest LGBTQ political news by following the Political Notebook on Twitter @ http://twitter.com/politicalnotes

Got a tip on LGBTQ politics? Call Matthew S. Bajko at (415) 829-8836 or e-mail [email protected]

Help keep the Bay Area Reporter going in these tough times. To support local, independent, LGBTQ journalism, consider becoming a BAR member.