Last week, the Voice reported that ACT UP, one the nation’s leading HIV/AIDS activist organizations, was protesting in front of New York’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene in Queens over its lousy data collection and even lousier education initiatives about disease treatment. It appears that the protest has had an effect: the Health Department has promised to ramp up its campaign to education people about prevention medications.
“The Health Department plans to expand information about biomedical HIV prevention interventions for at-risk populations, as well as information for clinical providers both on its website and in a format that can be disseminated easily by funded sites,” said a department spokesperson to Out.
Health explains that its reticence over providing better access to pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis was over the drugs’ potential for abuse–people using the drugs in place of, not with, other lines of defense. (Though I don’t know many people would prefer taking a monthlong course of drugs that attack your bone marrow and induce such terrible nausea that they are often prescribed alongside special medication as a first resort in dealing with HIV).
For many the fear of the HIV pandemic of the 1980s and 1990s has ebbed just enough that unprotected sex–and HIV infection–is on the rise again.
But we don’t know just how much on the rise here in New York, because Health Department data collection is faulty.
The department puts the number of HIV-positive men who have sex with men and are unaware of their HIV status at around 14 percent. ACT UP advocates put the number closer to 40 percent.
Lowball estimates like this one are what get forwarded to the Federal government when it comes time to re-up funding for HIV prevention services. And the Health Department has taken it as a go-ahead to cut its own funding; it plans to slash 37 percent from its HIV budget into the coming fiscal year.
“ACT UP will not be declaring victory anytime soon,” said long-time ACT UP member Jim Eigo.