According to the latest data released by the Center for Disease Control only 25 percent of people living with HIV in the U.S. have achieved viral suppression. In other words, three out of four people living with HIV nationwide still face significant health disparity gaps that continue to widen, and are related to both race and age.
African Americans are the least likely to be in ongoing care and to have the virus under control. Younger African Americans especially are least likely to have their virus in check. HIV care and viral suppression has been shown to improve with age, except among African Americans, aged 65 and older.
Eliminating gaps in care has become even more important as we have learned more about the impact of treatment on preventing the spread of HIV. We cannot adequately address gaps in care until Ryan White funding is following the epidemic.
The misguided decision to refuse the Medicaid expansion in many GOP led states, could disproportionately harm vulnerable populations. As HIV/AIDS continues to affect African Americans more than any other ethnic group in the U.S., advocates from southern states and rural America are concerned about poor life outcomes for people living with HIV in their cities.
For those left without coverage, the AIDS Assistance Program (ADAP) and The Ryan White Program, two federally funded programs many consider to be lifesavers, will continue to provide services.
Last week, I joined HIV advocates from areas that will have to rely on Ryan White Programs and we lobbied in Washington, successfully getting Congress to introduce a bill, “The Ryan White Patient Equity and Choice Act” that will require The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to study their formula and address the problem, of a disease that is geographically changing. The epidemic is really affecting African Americans worse in southern states as well as states where access to care, racism and stigma remain the biggest barriers.
Geneva Galloway an advocate from Charlotte, NC., has lived with HIV for 28 years and works with the Faith community there. Galloway says her fight there is stigma. “The stigma in the south, she says, “is worse than the disease itself”
The Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resource Emergency Act was originally passed by
Congress in 1990. In the two decades since then, four reauthorizations of the Act have reflected the evolution of HIV/AIDS. In 1996 the Act ensured access to highly active antiretroviral therapy through a drug assistant program (ADAP).
Ed Jones from Texas, is hoping the bill passes, and felt it was time to make changes to Ryan White.
“The status quo harms Texas and many other states,” said Jones. “We cannot adequately address gaps in care because Ryan White funding is not following the epidemic.”
In 2000, reauthorization provided funds to ensure access to care. In 2006, the reauthorization sought to mitigate the high impact of the disease on African Americans and other minority communities. New incentives for HIV care retention were created in 2009. The new Act will evenly distribute the funds to all states based on the epidemic and not population.
Art Jackson, an HIV advocate from Fayetteville, North Carolina who celebrates 25 years of living after his diagnosis, says the bill will help more like him get the HIV care they need.
“This bill can help ensure that thousands in my area where the epidemic is growing can get the adequate HIV care,” said Jackson.
Eliminating gaps in care has become even more important as we have learned more about the impact of treatment on preventing the spread of HIV.