Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Periscope 360

The Ebb and Flow of
AIDS in Arkansas 2011

As the 30th anniversary of AIDS in America continues to be commemorated throughout the nation, with displays at the famed Smithsonian's National Museum of American History in Washington.D.C., a CNN news special moderated by Anderson Cooper, and localized events in various cities such as San Diego to NYC continues to remind us that the battle is ongoing as we must soberly realized that 75 Million people are infected with the virus globally according to UNAIDS reports. Despite those figures, there have been significant break throughs ranging from the momentous national HIV Strategy promoted by the Obama administration, expanded vaccine testing and newly developed single dosage regimens that have added to the quality of life of those now living longer with HIV. Yet among all these movements here in Arkansas as it is in other southern states there are still distinct issues surrounding this health dilemma. Such "elephants in the room" topics as the ADAP waiting list, available housing, poverty levels, transportation, stigma and those infected but not in care for numerous reasons require additional attention. Meanwhile depending on your viewpoint, exacerbating the problem includes agency moves, staffing exits, uneducated lawmakers and extreme fluid funding levels to organizations involved in offering services to end users have become apart of the complexity of living with HIV in Arkansas. Since this forums inception, we have been outspoken as well as supportive of the charge on HIV/AIDS. We will continue to address, inquire and report on the progress or lack thereof both locally and statewide. From our vantage point we are still puzzled as to "just what does it take to get consumers more motivated around this issue?" Especially those who voiced their concerns during a joint advocacy conference sponsored by Living Affected and NWA AIDS Links held earlier this year in Fayetteville. During that weekend, consumers brought matters to the table, but bringing it without active participation in holding systems accountable is counter productive to achieving any change. In the last two decades numerous groups, outfits, organizations, networks or what have you, have come and gone using valuable resources and brain trust. Yet in 2011 it appears that as the crisis spikes with co-morbidity health issues involving STD's and amidst flat lined funding, advocates and activist alike are still wary and suspecting of the supportive infrastructure which in itself has done as much to warrant such attitudes. Even though health care reform is on track to be implemented in 2014 and its framework slowly unfolding, political forces in this state have not been full throated in their support.  Therefore with this term of the legislature now a distant memory, to date Arkansas still has no line item in its budget despite a 2008 Governor appointed task force which cited a laundry load of recommendations, announced partnerships and other creative suggestions. A bright spot in this mix is a $400.000 (FY 2011) contribution from tobbaco settlement money destined for education, awareness campaigns and testing which is needed. But if new cases are discovered and they are being found weekly according to the Arkansas Department Health, without definitive funding sources we will eventually find conditions fueling the fire of the state's "care paradox." That paradox involves more positive individuals within a overburden system which can't sustain without elevated funding for labs, meds and other needs. Consequently in our opinion this "see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil" position persist as 2010's SHARP (State Healthcare Access Research Project) analysis again highlighted more of what these professionals and experts should have already surmized and those activitst with boots on the ground deal with daily. Ultimately its all about utilizing more dollars effectively while demanding accountability. As we survey the horizon there's lots of hard questions that need to be raised across the board and COP 24/7 is back on the beat to resume that process. We encourage your comments, leads, observations and personal stories on living with HIV/AIDS in Arkansas.

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