Fewer Federal Dollars for AIDS?

January 02, 1993

More than 100,000 Americans have died from AIDS since the disease was first recognized in the in the early 1980s, yet the federal government has cut funding for AIDS education and for AIDS prevention over the last two years. This is a recipe for disaster.

Federal money accounts for 75 percent of state spending on AIDS prevention programs, which include testing, counseling, education and partner notification. But next year the federal government has budgeted only $129 million for grants to states for AIDS prevention, down from $143.7 million last year and $159 million in 1991.

Federal officials say states are getting less money for prevention because Congress has earmarked more money for AIDS treatment programs. Treatment costs have long dwarfed the amount spent on prevention. But with AIDS cases projected to more than double over the next decade, there clearly is a need to increase funding for prevention.

The AIDS epidemic, like other dreadful plagues throughout history, exhibits a fairly predictable life cycle. First there is panic, during which fear of contracting the disease and ignorance of its transmission routes dominates public opinion. Then comes denial, when the magnitude of the situation finally sinks in and people seek to escape what seems an impossible burden by simply pretending it doesn't exist. After that comes resignation and, finally, engagement and recovery.

But at present the country seems stuck in the stage of denial. The paucity of funding for AIDS prevention suggests the government is still trying to pretend the problem isn't as serious as it actually is. That sends a dangerous message that encourages people to continue engaging in the kinds of behaviors that put them at high risk.

President-elect Clinton has pledged to increase federal funding for AIDS research, treatment and prevention. Let us hope his administration moves quickly to honor that promise. As things now stand, millions of Americans already are living under a death sentence as a result of the complacency of the last decade.

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