Rep. Waters Recognizes National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
Washington, Feb 7 -
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), a Congressional leader in the fight to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS in the United States and around the world through increased awareness, screening, research, treatment, and funding, released the following statement today in recognition of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day:
“Today is National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. This day is a day to remember the terrible toll that HIV and AIDS have had on African Americans. But it is also a day to recognize the progress that has been made improving awareness about HIV/AIDS and expanding access to HIV/AIDS testing and treatment among African Americans and indeed all Americans, and to dedicate ourselves to continuing to fight this epidemic and work for the day when no one will have to live with – or die from – this terrible disease.
“HIV/AIDS has had a devastating impact on African Americans. There are approximately 1.1 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States today, and more than one-half million of them are black. Blacks represent 44% of new HIV infections and 57% of AIDS-related deaths. Black women represent an astonishing 64% of new AIDS diagnoses among women, and black teenagers represent 68% of new AIDS diagnoses among teenagers. AIDS was the 4th leading cause of death for black men and the 3rd leading cause of death for black women ages 25-44 in 2007. Blacks are 8 times more likely to become infected with HIV than whites and 9 times more likely to be diagnosed with AIDS than whites. Blacks have the highest rate of new HIV infections and new AIDS diagnoses of any racial group. About 2% of African Americans today are HIV positive.
“Despite these statistics, there are reasons for hope. Leadership in the black community has made African Americans more aware of the problem. The Kaiser Family Foundation reports that about one in five African Americans surveyed name HIV/AIDS as the number one health problem in the United States.
“I have worked hard as a member of the Congressional Black Caucus to advance policies to address the AIDS crisis in the black community. The Minority AIDS Initiative, which I developed in 1998 when I was chair of the Congressional Black Caucus, has strengthened the ability of the black community and other minority communities to respond to the epidemic. Every year, I circulate request letters to leaders of the House Appropriations Committee in support of funding for the Minority AIDS Initiative. Last year, 56 concerned Members of Congress signed my letters. Because of our efforts, the Minority AIDS Initiative received $416 million in fiscal year 2012, the same amount as in fiscal year 2011 and more than any previous year. That is despite the prevailing atmosphere of fiscal austerity.
“Two months ago, on World AIDS Day, I reintroduced the Stop AIDS in Prison Act (H.R. 3547). This bill requires the Federal Bureau of Prisons to develop a comprehensive policy to provide HIV/AIDS testing, treatment and prevention for inmates in Federal prisons. The Stop AIDS in Prison Act has been passed twice by the House of Representatives, once in 2007 and once in 2009. Furthermore, while the Senate has yet to pass this bill and send it to the President’s desk, the bill has focused attention on the problem of HIV/AIDS in our nation’s prisons. As a result, the President’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy, which was released in 2010, requires the Bureau of Prisons to take steps to address the effects of HIV/AIDS within the prison population.
“Forward-looking Federal policies and programs supported by members of the Congressional Black Caucus have slowed down the spread of HIV and improved our nation’s ability to treat people with AIDS of all racial and ethnic groups. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) promote awareness and prevention and encourage HIV testing to identify those who are infected. Advances in research supported by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), together with HIV/AIDS treatment programs such as the Ryan White program and the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), have allowed people living with HIV/AIDS to live longer and more productive lives.
“The passage of the Affordable Care Act has begun the process of reforming our nation’s health system so that all Americans will have access to the health care they need. This law is especially important for people living with HIV/AIDS, many of whom have been denied health insurance coverage because their infection is considered a pre-existing condition by insurance companies. Thanks to the passage of the Affordable Care Act, insurance companies can no longer deny coverage to children living with HIV/AIDS. Beginning in 2014, adults living with HIV/AIDS will also have this protection.
“Unfortunately, the progress we have made against this devastating disease is in grave danger of being reversed. Last year, the House of Representatives passed legislation to repeal the Affordable Care Act and allow health insurance companies to continue to deny coverage to Americans living with HIV/AIDS. Fortunately, the Senate has shown no interest in this ill-advised legislation. Meanwhile, Congress has been debating drastic reductions in funding for critical public health and HIV/AIDS programs like Medicare, Medicaid, NIH research, CDC prevention programs, Ryan White and ADAP.
“I call upon my friends and colleagues in the black community to remain vigilant in fighting this dreadful disease. And I call upon my colleagues in the Congressional Black Caucus and indeed all of my colleagues in Congress to protect Medicare and Medicaid; maintain funding for critical HIV/AIDS programs; and support full implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
“Each of us must do everything in our power to bring about a world without AIDS.”
Rep. Waters is sponsoring several other initiatives in the 112th Congress to promote HIV/AIDS awareness, testing and treatment.
1. Preventing the spread of AIDS: Rep. Waters reintroduced the Stop AIDS in Prison Act (H.R. 3547), which was passed by the House of Representatives on March 17, 2009, but was not taken up by the Senate prior to the adjournment of the 111th Congress. This bill requires the Federal Bureau of Prisons to test all prison inmates for HIV, unless the inmate opts out of taking the test. The bill also requires HIV/AIDS prevention education for all inmates and comprehensive treatment for those who test positive. The bill is cosponsored by 36 of her colleagues.
2. Promoting HIV screening: On November 17, 2011, Rep. Waters sent a letter to the Secretary of Health and Human Services, urging her to include routine annual screening for HIV in the Essential Health Benefits package under the Affordable Care Act. About 20% of persons living with HIV/AIDS in the United States do not know they are infected. Routine HIV screening would allow them to learn of their status and begin treatment. A total of 54 Members of Congress signed the Congresswoman’s letter.
3. Holding health insurance plans accountable: Rep. Waters plans to reintroduce the Routine HIV Screening Coverage Act (H.R. 2137 in the 111th Congress). This bill requires health insurance plans to cover routine HIV tests under the same terms and conditions as other routine health screenings and therefore enables more Americans to be tested for HIV. This bill had 46 cosponsors representing both political parties in the 111th Congress.
4. Expanding the Minority AIDS Initiative: Rep. Waters continues her efforts to expand the Minority AIDS Initiative, which she established as Chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus in 1998 to expand HIV awareness, testing, and treatment among racial and ethnic minorities, which are disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS. On May 20, 2011, Rep. Waters wrote a letter to congressional appropriators requesting $610 million for the Minority AIDS Initiative for fiscal year 2012 to ensure that the Initiative has the resources needed to combat the AIDS epidemic in these communities. A total of 56 Members of Congress signed her letter. The Initiative received $416 million in fiscal year 2012, the same amount as in fiscal year 2011 and more than any previous year.