By Rob Quinn
On April 13 and 14, nearly 400 HIV/AIDS advocates from 30 states, Puerto Rico, and Washington, traveled to Washington, D.C. to AIDSWatch 2015, the nation’s largest annual constituent-based national HIV/AIDS advocacy event.
It was so inspiring to be among these members of our community, including my fellow members of Massachusetts Delegation, to share our journeys of living positive with over 200 Members of Congress to educate them about the important issues at stake for people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States. My twenty-one year journey as a person living and thriving with HIV/AIDS has evolved from being an unheard voice to a voice for the unheard. This year’s ask included: Protect, Fund, and Support Implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA); Ensure Ongoing Investment in the Ryan White Program; Modernize the Housing Opportunities for People with AIDS (HOPW) Program; Remove the Ban on the Use of Federal Funds in Support of Syringe Exchange; Support Adolescent Sexual Health Promotion Programs and Eliminate Federal Abstinence-Only-Until-Marriage Programs; Support the REPEAL HIV Discrimination Act; and, Ensure Funding of a Comprehensive Federal Response to HIV and AIDS.
This experience was a strong reminder of how grateful I am to be living and thriving with HIV/AIDS in Massachusetts. As a member of the Massachusetts AIDSWatch Delegation the past two years, I have come to relearn that Massachusetts, in my opinion, is the platinum standard for HIV care in the United States, which includes HIV prevention, testing, treatment, medical case management, and other health and social services.
My health and happiness are my greatest assets and highest priorities. The foundation on which I continue to build these is through Massachusetts’ affordable housing. Housing is healthcare; it is fundamental to our overall health and well-being and improves quality of life. Next on my priority list is access to healthcare, which includes world-class academic medical centers that offer outstanding patient care, as well as expert providers that understand the most advanced developments and break new ground with ongoing, innovative research. Continuing on is access to approved lifesaving drug treatments. This in large part made possible through the Massachusetts HIV Drug Assistance Program (HDAP), designed to help those of us who cannot afford to pay the full cost of the lifesaving HIV-related drugs we need. HDAP helps pay for my medications and Medicare Part D health insurance through the Comprehensive Health Insurance Initiative (CHII) program.
Essential to anyone’s overall health, regardless of HIV status, is oral health. I, like many others, am underinsured and do not have dental insurance. Those of living with HIV are at special risk for oral health problems. Many of these problems arise because our immune system is weakened and less able to fight off infection. Massachusetts to the rescue again! The HIV Dental Ombudsperson Program (HIV DOP) is a comprehensive dental access program for persons with HIV/AIDS in Massachusetts, funded under Ryan White Part A and with funds from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.
Lastly, having recently relocated to Boston and as an aging HIV-er, one of my primary concerns is accessing medical case management and other health and social services for people living with HIV/AIDS. Thankfully, there is strong sense of community and belonging that Massachusetts, Boston in particular, offers.
AIDSWatch 2015 may be over, but our advocacy for increased awareness, decreased stigma, and the work towards an AIDS-free generation must continue. Let’s keep the momentum and conversations going. Advocate on behalf of yourself and our community. You can use the power of your voice and journey to make a difference right here at home, in the Greater Boston area. To find out whom your state Representative and State Senator are, type in your address at http://www.wheredoivotema.com/bal/myelectioninfo.aspx. To get the contact information for your State Senator and State Representative, go to https://malegislature.gov/People/Search.
You can also get involved locally with Project ABLE (AIDS Budget Legislative Effort) a statewide coalition of AIDS service providers, advocates and people with HIV/AIDS. Since the early 1990’s, Project ABLE has successfully increased state funding for HIV/AIDS by working effectively with several governors and their respective administrations, the Massachusetts legislature, and through mobilizing a grassroots network of HIV/AIDS service providers, advocates, and people with HIV/AIDS. Much thanks to Project ABLE’s efforts, just last week the Massachusetts Senate Ways and Means budget proposal for Fiscal Year 2016 added approximately $800,000 to the HIV/AIDS/HCV Line Item (4512-0103) over this year’s funding and over the final House budget for Fiscal Year 2016. The Senate funded the line item at $33 million. This is over a $3+ million increase over the Governor’s budget for the line item, which he funded at $29.9 million. This is the largest increase in funding for HIV/AIDS/HCV in several years, and it is great news. Please contact your state senator to thank him/her for supporting funding at $33 million for the HIV/AIDS/HCV Line Item (4512-0103) in the Senate budget.
Whether or not you are directly impacted, we are all affected by HIV/AIDS. We are advocates united: issues over egos; solutions over personal gains.
Link for AIDSWatch 2015
Link for Project ABLE
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