Is AIDS Still A Critical Concern to the Gay Community?

Private AIDS funding drops, while new HIV infections among African American men rise dramatically. (Mark Ralston: AFP/Getty Images)

Researchers, doctors, advocates and general attendees at this year’s International AIDS Conference were awash in enthusiasm that a cure to the AIDS epidemic is actually within reach, largely due to advances in treatments and improved prevention.

But to actually reach the cure takes money. And right at this moment, private funding is down.

Dramatically.

Funders Concerned About AIDS, a philanthropy dedicated to ensuring the end of the epidemic, says both the number of grants from private foundations and actual dollars given have dropped by about one-third.

While the new infections are among people at the intersection of race and poverty, the traditional funders of HIV/AIDS … look around at their friends and may get the sense AIDS is “solved.”

At first blush, it would seem that a down economy would be a big driver, but Daniel Tietz, Executive Director of the AIDS Community Research Initiative of America (ACRIA), sees something else at work. He spoke with KQED’s Rachael Myrow on The California Report Friday morning and said that the downturn in funding predated the downturn in the economy.

“If you look back at 2006, 2007, the economy was booming, but the drops were starting even then, both in total grant numbers and total dollars.” At the same time, funding to other lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender giving such as marriage equality and the repeal of the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy have gone up. “It’s also worth noting,” Tietz continued, “that many foundations do three year averages in terms of their investments, in terms of what they give, so we would just be seeing some of those decreases now if it were just a matter of the economy.”

So, what is going on? Tietz asserts it has to do with the success of HIV/AIDS treatments and what groups are — and are not — benefiting from them. Despite the success in the battle against AIDS, 50-thousand people are infected every year and a wildly disproportionate number of those new infections are in African-Americans.

As Tietz wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece last summer as the AIDS Conference kicked off:

More than six in 10 new infections in the United States are among men who have sex with men, known in this field as MSM. Within that group, the hardest-hit are African American men ages 13 to 29. From 2006 to 2009, CDC data show, HIV infections rose by an appalling 48 percent among these young men — one of the largest increases of any demographic. New HIV cases among black MSM are nearly equal to those for their white counterparts, despite the former’s far smaller percentage of the population.

So, Tietz says, while the new infections are among people at the intersection of race and poverty, the traditional funders of HIV/AIDS — wealthy, gay, white philanthropists — look around at their friends and may get the sense AIDS is “solved.”

“Today, you may not even know who has HIV,” he says. “They could have HIV, they can be in treatment. You don’t see deaths, you don’t see people in rapid decline. It can feel solved. It can feel like ‘OK, I can move on, I can give my resources to marriage equality, I can give my resources to whatever else in the world.”

But obviously AIDS is far from solved. Tietz says he has gotten some “quiet thank yous” from other advocates for bringing attention to this issue, but so far, no word from funders themselves.

“There are lots of folks who are committed and even on my own board,” Tietz told Myrow. “I have white gay men who give and give and give. There are folks who are really doing their part. But the big picture has changed and not for the better.”

Listen to Rachael Myrow’s interview with Daniel Tietz:

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