Caring Communities has been fighting against HIV since the 1990s offering case management, prevention/testing and treatment for HIV among other similar services to the community. While we do our best to fundraise to help pay for the costs of providing these services, we depend on the state and federal funding we receive from various regional offices around the state. These offices who fund our agency, the North Central District Allied Connections, Northeast Regional HIV Services and Jewish Healthcare Foundation, provide us with a large portion of our budget to continue our work and, in some instances, develop new, innovative programs that can benefit individuals living with HIV and AIDS in Northeastern and North Central Pennsylvania.
In our state of Pennsylvania, we are very fortunate in that regard. Generally, it is often a struggle for nonprofit organizations to acquire the necessary money to adequately pay staff to conduct important work and to fund direct services to our clients and patients. But in other parts of the country, organizations like ours that focus on fighting HIV struggle immensely and now, one state has made it even much more challenging for providers to offer high quality, life-sustaining HIV services.
Early in 2023, Tennessee’s 50th governor, Bill Lee, said NO to accepting $8 million in federal funds to wage the war against HIV in his state. The governor’s decision to turn down these dollars will likely cause providers in that state to scramble to properly address HIV prevention, testing and support services. According to Rolling Stone, which covered this story, testing and prevention services in Tennessee will primarily be focused on “first responders, trafficking victims, and mothers and children – none of which are the biggest at-risk groups for HIV transmission.”
Indeed, those groups are not among those who are at highest risk for infection with HIV. According to HIV.gov, men who have sex with other men (MSM) (especially in the Black and Latino communities), Black women, transgender women, youth 13-24 years old and people who inject drugs are disproportionately affected by HIV.
According to NBC News, Lee’s administration said that the money they turned away would be replaced with state dollars and that his administration “pledged a shift in funding priorities that would effectively steer HIV prevention efforts away from groups at substantial risk of contracting the virus including gay men and people who inject drugs.” The media outlet also interviewed the director of public policy at amfAR, The foundation for AIDS Research about this issue who told them, “People at risk for HIV are going to suffer because of these decisions.”
Tennessee already has its hands full when it comes to dealing with the virus that causes AIDS as it has Shelby County which is home to Memphis. That county, according to NBC, is “among the nation’s counites with the highest rates of HIV and AIDS.” They go on to say that in that county 819 individuals per 100,000 residents had HIV in 2020.
With any luck, HIV providers in Tennessee will be able to mitigate any suffering among their clients and patients for as long as possible because of this decision. Perhaps, one day, the state will change its mind and accept the funds that are readily available to them so that the residents there may continue to live long, happy, healthy lives.