$1.7 million more sought to prevent HIV in Chicago

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Ald.Tom Tunney (44th) Dismayed that the 2007 city budget proposed by Mayor Richard Daley has no increase in HIV-prevention funding , Ald. Tom Tunney (44th) is seeking an amendment to mandate a $1.7 million boost to fight the disease.

The number of reported HIV/AIDS cases in Chicago has increased 20 percent since 2003--particularly among African-Americans and Latinos, according to the AIDS Foundation of Chicago. But there has not been a city budget increase in HIV-prevention funding since then.

"Early prevention could have saved so many lives in my community: the white gay male, North Side community," said Tunney. "We need these dollars for the ravaging effects of what's happening in the Latino and African-American communities."

unney, the council's only openly gay alderman, introduced the ordinance at last week's council meeting, shortly before a public budget hearing where AIDS advocates testified in support of the increase.

AIDS advocates say that the $1.7 million could reverse recent funding-related service cuts for proven interventions, including projects serving women and girls, needle-exchange programs for injection drug users and school-based HIV prevention education for at-risk youth.

The last budget increase for HIV prevention occurred in 2003 when city leaders approved $600,000, primarily from the Community Development Block Grant. The 2007 budget calls for spending $4.2 million in city funds for AIDS prevention, a dollar amount that has remained unchanged since 2004.

The City Council is expected to vote Nov. 15 on next year's $5.7 billion budget.

Tunney and AIDS advocates are concerned about increasing infections among gay and bisexual men and in minority communities. Blacks represent 36 percent of Chicago's population, yet they account for 55 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS in Chicago, according to city health data. Similarly, Puerto Ricans account for 15 percent of the Hispanic population in Chicago, but account for 29 percent of HIV and AIDS diagnoses in Hispanics between 2003 and 2004.

Tunney's ordinance mandates that the increase not be drawn from existing Health Department funds but from other available funds as determined by the city's budget director. Tunney has not proposed a source for the additional monies but said he is working with the mayor's office on the matter.

Health Commissioner Terry Mason commended AIDS advocates for raising awareness of the issue but said that greater advocacy must occur on the federal and state levels where the city receives the bulk of its HIV-prevention funds.

This year HIV-prevention services in the Chicago area have suffered a cut of nearly $500,000 in state and federal funding, the AIDS Foundation of Chicago reported.

Meanwhile, new federal mandates to expand voluntary HIV counseling and testing services and onerous record-keeping mean less funding for prevention education, condom distribution, school- and faith-based education, and other interventions, foundation officials said.

Operators of the city's two needle-exchange programs said they are particularly concerned about the funding shortfall as it coincides with the implementation of the city's HIV Prevention Plan for 2007-2009. The plan was developed by the city's HIV Prevention Planning Group, a 41-member advisory panel, and recommends less funding for injection drug users given that HIV transmission for that population has been on the decline.

(c) Chicago Tribune