Cleveland--Ohio AIDS activists and service organization leaders called for the state and federal government to restore cut funding and stop shifting money toward �abstinence-only� sex education programs which, they said, don�t work.
�I feel a greater sense of emergency than I have felt in a very long time,� said AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland director Earl Pike.
Rev. Tracey Lind, dean of Trinity Cathedral where the February 10 briefing was held, opened it by questioning the morality of spending millions of dollars on ineffective abstinence-only programs, leaving methods that prevent AIDS without money.
Abstinence-only until marriage, a concept promoted by the religious right and the Bush administration, requires schools to teach children and teens that sexual activity outside of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical effects, and that a mutually faithful monogamous relationship in marriage is the expected standard of human sexual activity.
The programs forbid teaching about condoms, contraception or safer sexual activity. They do not address gay and lesbian teens at all.
A study by Texas A&M University for the Texas health department, released January 31, showed a significant increase in the number of ninth and tenth grade boys and girls who became sexually active after abstinence-only instruction.
In his proposed 2006 federal budget, President George W. Bush, indebted to Christian conservatives, has proposed spending $130 million on these programs while cutting HIV and other sexually-transmitted disease prevention programs that are proven to work.
Federal abstinence-only funding during the Bush administration has increased 188 percent while other federal prevention funds have decreased. The Cleveland area alone has been cut seven percent during the same period.
Federal abstinence-only funds require local matching money. In most states, the nonprofit agencies conducting the programs put up the match. In Ohio, however, it is paid from the state treasury.
Ohio spends $7.5 million for the programs, the same amount as for all AIDS drug assistance, case management and prevention services.
Pike used charts to outline funding trends from federal, state and local sources. They showed a 220 percent increase in people accessing AIDS services during the four years of the Bush presidency. Then he pointed to the funding chart.
�If you put one chart over the other,� said Pike, �they form a perfect X,� with the service line going up as the money one goes down.
Pike noted that the Ohio Department of Health has cut prevention and treatment funds by 20 percent since 2002.
Between 1998 and 2003, the number of people living with AIDS in Ohio increased 78 percent.
Federal Ryan White Care Act funding since 2002 has increased one percent while the number of people living with AIDS has increased ten percent. Bush�s 2006 budget recommends �flat funding� or no change over current funding.
The Ohio Department of Alcohol and Drug Abuse Services has cut funding for testing and case management for drug users and their partners by 42 percent since 2001.
He said that Cleveland Community Development Block Grants set aside for HIV prevention activity have declined 44 percent since 2001.
AIDS Volunteers of Cincinnati director Vicki Brooks said neighboring Kentucky has a list of people waiting for anti-HIV drugs, and warned that Ohio is moving that direction.
She said a client who learned she was going to Cleveland for the briefing asked her to tell his story.
�Tell them I need my medicine or I�m going to die.�
Bill Hardy, who directs the AIDS Resource Center of Ohio, serving 35 counties, many of which are rural, said his agency saw an overall 21 percent increase in new cases last year, with 55 percent increases in Mansfield alone.
�Flat funding with 40,000 new cases is not a victory,� said Hardy.
Ohio AIDS Coalition director Kevin Sullivan referred to a speech delivered by Bush in Philadelphia last June.
�In ten states, hundreds of AIDS patients are waiting for access to life-extending treatments. In other words, there�s long lines,� said Bush.
After announcing a plan to provide an additional $20 million for drugs which never materialized, Bush said, �In other words, there shouldn�t be lines here. And we�re going to deal with the lines.�
�If waiting lists for drugs are unacceptable,� asked Sullivan, �why are there still waiting lists?�
Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell and Rep. Sherrod Brown of Akron were also represented at the briefing. State Sen. Eric Fingerhut, who represents Cleveland�s east suburbs, attended.
�To govern is to choose,� said Fingerhut. �Legislators have chosen to fund abstinence-only until marriage programs. They must hear your stories and they must understand how that impacts lives.�
Afterward, Fingerhut said members of the Ohio legislature have made bad AIDS funding choices largely out of homophobia.
�They believe homosexuality is immoral and that the disease is a consequence we can expect from immoral behavior,� said Fingerhut.
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