AIDS activist hope new statistics means more resources

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(Host) For each of the last 10 years, the federal government has underestimated the number of people who are infected with HIV.

Advocates say they hope the more accurate statistics will mean the federal government will do a better job of addressing the pandemic in the next year.

VPR’s Ross Sneyd has more.

(Sneyd) The federal law that determines how much money is spent on HIV and AIDS care is set to expire about a year from now.

Peter Jacobsen of the AIDS service organization Vermont CARES says the dramatic new infection estimates should make the case for a better federal response.

(Jacobsen) "My initial reaction was extreme disappointment – and I’m putting that mildly – in the federal government. But I’ve had a couple of days to actually process what this means. And what this means for HIV advocates nationwide is that now we have actual more accurate statistics that we can use to demonstrate the real scale of HIV across the country.”

(Sneyd) Jacobsen’s still not happy that the HIV infection rate has been 40 percent higher than the government reported.

But he’s hopeful that, with a truer estimate of the scale of the pandemic, more resources will be devoted to battling HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

And he’s not necessarily looking for more money. He’s also interested in …

(Jacobsen) "Creating policy that doesn’t’ even need to be funded, just laws, health care, ways of accessing care that don’t have to cost a ton to help more people get the HIV care they need, maybe changing how health care is provided nationwide. Maybe changing how prescription drugs that manage HIV infection are distributed. There’s so many different ways.”

(Sneyd) The Vermont Health Department wouldn’t mind seeing some more money, though.

There currently are about 480 Vermonters living with HIV or AIDS. The state estimates another 150 people are infected but don’t know it.

The Health Department’s Michelle Force says more federal money would pay for testing.

(Force) “Overall, the time is right to really increase resources for both prevention and for testing. And in addition to that, when you get more prevention and testing, when you beef up those efforts, you get a chance to intervene earlier in the course of the disease, and that overall improves quality of life and decreases health care costs.”

(Sneyd) AIDS service organizations have already begun to make their case for new resources to members of Vermont’s congressional delegation.

They say they hope the publicity about the new infection rates will help them deliver their message.

For VPR News, I’m Ross Sneyd.

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