Tim Horn, a native New Yorker and longtime AIDS activist, was happy when Governor Andrew Cuomo marked World AIDS Day by announcing on Monday his plans to invest $200 million in additional state funding to fight the disease.
But he was not exactly ecstatic. While Cuomo’s commitment represents an 8 percent increase over the $2.5 billion spent annually on state programs for people living with HIV and AIDS, Horn says funding isn’t entirely the problem.
“What we’ve achieved over the course of 25 to 30 years is tremendous — in terms of really understanding HIV and how we can better treat it,” says Horn, HIV project director of the Treatment Action Group.
Another part of the problem, Horn says, is that so few people are actually able to access the programs that are already being funded. More outreach, he says, is desperately needed.
“When you take a look at national averages, there are a minority of people living with HIV/AIDS that are on treatment and doing well,” he says. “That is an absolute travesty. We still have a majority of people living with HIV that haven’t been diagnosed and aren’t on a treatment program. That’s what we have to continue to work towards.”
Horn was diagnosed with HIV in the early 1990s. Since then, he began working with the Foundation for AIDS Research and joined the Treatment Action Group, an HIV/AIDS activist organization co-founded by members of New York’s AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP).
“New York was once the epicenter of the AIDS crisis — but now we are showing the nation how to fight back and make this epidemic a thing of the past,” said Governor Cuomo in a statement Monday.
In addition to announcing the increase in funding for HIV/AIDS efforts, he detailed specific strategies as part of a plan to end the epidemic in New York State by 2020. Those included expanding availability of affordable housing for those living with HIV and investing more toward funding Medicaid Managed Care Plans.
On the prevention front, the New York City Council last week allocated $6.6 million for pre-exposure and immediate post-exposure drugs. The bill was co-sponsored by Councilmember Corey Johnson, chair of the council’s Committee on Health, who is gay and the only openly HIV-positive elected official in New York. Johnson effused about Cuomo’s action on Tuesday.
“The announcement this morning is really a game-changer,” Johnson told the Voice. “I think we’re going to prevent an untold number of transmissions and we’re going to give support to people living with HIV and AIDS that no other state has done.” He says what needs to be done in terms of improving access to care requires money.
“We need to prevent new infections with PrEP and PEP access, keep people who are HIV-positive virally suppressed and healthy, and ensure they have stable housing, medicine, and health care,” says Johnson. “To do that, there are certain programs we have to fund, along with creating new ones.”
Horn adds that he believes New York’s approach to the epidemic is one that should be emulated in other states but that there’s still much progress left to be made — particularly on a national level.
“Consider how much we’ve invested — billions of dollars and many years making sure we have the best tools available,” Horn says. “But we have to take a look at what’s been actually done to make sure people have been tested and in treatment. We haven’t seen the same commitment there.”