Previously published in the New York Nonprofit Press, January 25, 2010
In late 2009, President Obama signed the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act of 2009. Unless you work directly in the field of HIV/AIDS, this may not be on your radar. Most major news media sources neglected to cover the story at all. But to those of us in the field, it is huge news and a tremendous victory.
His signature extends the largest Federal program which provides assistance to individuals living with HIV/AIDS for another four years. The Ryan White program was first enacted in 1990 and is named after a young boy who contracted HIV from infected blood through transfusions to treat his hemophilia. His was the first case of HIV to make national and international headlines as he was a young Caucasian boy who was seemingly “immune” to such an “immoral” disease. For the first time, we were forced to look at HIV/AIDS in a new way and to see it for what it is (a devastating immune disease that could affect anyone) and not for what some judged it to be (a disease for unworthy individuals who somehow deserved to become infected).
President Obama said “[w]e can’t give Ryan White back to Jeanne, back to his mom. But what we can do . . . is honor the courage that he and his family showed. What we can do is to take more action and educate more people. What we can do is keep fighting each and every day until we eliminate this disease from the face of the Earth.” Click here to see his full speech, and to get more information on this bill and other important news on HIV/AIDS.
HIV/AIDS continues to affect disenfranchised communities in alarming numbers. Minority populations, homeless populations, and those living in poverty are most affected by HIV/AIDS. HIV/AIDS can only be managed if a person is tested and gets into adequate health care. As we know, these populations often lack the resources to even get tested, let alone get into care. What can result is the disease continuing to spread and individuals getting sick due to the lack of care and treatment.
It is crucial that we keep HIV/AIDS in the forefront of all of our conversations surrounding poverty and homelessness. Yes, HIV/AIDS is a chronic disease, yet if left untreated, it can be devastating and fiercely life-threatening. This is especially true in those populations struggling with poverty and homelessness. It is up to us to continue to rally to get the needed services to these populations. The extension of the Ryan White Act is a major step in helping us achieve this goal.