Massachusetts Health Care Leaders Report State Government Lags Behind Changing Face Of AIDS

BOSTON, Dec. 3 /PRNewswire/ -- In recognition of World AIDS Day, the Massachusetts Health Policy Forum (The Forum) convened state health care leaders on Wednesday to evaluate the progress made in combating AIDS in Massachusetts over the past 10 years. At the conference, the Forum released its report titled "HIV/AIDS in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts: Historical Trends and Policies for the Future." The report, written by Brandeis University researcher John Orwat, AM, LICSW, PhD candidate, examines the spread of the AIDS virus throughout the state and the growing number of women, specifically women of color, and the increase in the proportion of youths aged 13 - 24 that are contracting the disease. The overall number of people infected with HIV increased by 20 percent from 1999-2003. As of October 2004, as estimated 22,000 - 24,000 people were infected with HIV/AIDS.

Phil Johnston, Chair of the Massachusetts Health Policy Forum Board, began the event by stating, "The faces of people with HIV/AIDS have changed, but government programs - particularly prevention strategies -- have simply not kept pace with the changing nature of the disease." Mr. Johnston noted that the stigma surrounding the disease continues and that "in some ways were are going backward in time to the days when Ronald Reagan never utter the words 'AIDS' in the midst of a real crisis."

Orwat also found that about 25% of those infected with HIV do not yet know their status because they are not getting tested, increasing the chance that they will spread the disease and delay treatment, risking adverse health effects. The report documents decreased funding for HIV/AIDS prevention, lack of funding for education in schools, a lack of commitment to these efforts and a danger in the high-cost of the drugs used to treat HIV/AIDS.

The Massachusetts Health Policy Forum report closed with the following recommendations: increase funding for prevention, target prevention to the social determinants of HIV/AIDS and develop different prevention strategies for different groups and the varied ways in which they contract this disease. There is also considerable regional variation. Orwat noted, "In Boston, Metrowest and Southeast the highest mode of transmission is men having sex with men. In central and western Massachusetts the highest mode of exposure is injection drug use."

Ralph Fuccillo, Executive Director, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Foundation and President, Board of Directors, AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts (AAC) moderated the conference panel: Kevin Cranston, Director, Massachusetts Department of Public Health, HIV/AIDS Bureau; Andrew Fullem, Senior HIV/AIDS Advisor, John Snow, Inc. (JSI) and AAC Board member; Anita Raj, PhD, Boston University School of Public Health; Michael Wong, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine, Division of Infections Diseases, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center and Vice President of AAC's Board.

The Massachusetts Health Policy Forum was formed in 1996 to address cutting edge health care issues in Mass. Sponsored by Brandeis University, the Forum is composed of legislators, health care practitioners, etc.

CONTACT: Michael Doonan Massachusetts Health Policy Forum 781-736-4831 Diego Sanchez AIDS Action Committee 617-450-1524

AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts

CONTACT: Michael Doonan of Massachusetts Health Policy Forum, +1-781-736-4831; or Diego Sanchez, AIDS Action Committee, +1-617-450-1524,dsanchez@aac.org

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