By Sarah J. Javier, MS (PhD Candidate in Health Psychology at Virginia Commonwealth University)
On February 9, President Obama released his proposed budget for FY 2017. The $4 trillion budget included several provisions for research on clean energy, education, and Medicaid. However, for advocates of HIV/AIDS research, one thing was startlingly clear: HIV/AIDS is fast becoming an insignificant issue in Congress.
There are over 1.1 million people in the United States currently living with HIV and over 18% of those individuals have no idea they are infected. The devastation of the disease has resulted in over half a million deaths in the United States alone, and there are 50,000 people newly diagnosed with HIV every year.
In 2015, the Obama Administration updated the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS). The updated Strategy restated the original NHAS vision in which the “United States will become a place where new HIV infections are rare, and when they do occur, every person … will have unfettered access to high quality, life-extending care, free from stigma and discrimination.” The updated NHAS makes clear that we still need sustained investments in HIV prevention and treatment.
However, this Administration has not backed up the strategy with needed resources. While the Federal government has provided vital funding to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to research infectious diseases, the level allocated to HIV/AIDS research has remained flat for the past three budget periods. In addition, funding for Behavioral and Social Science Research (BSSR) has slightly decreased in the new budget proposal, indicating that this is also an area in which an increase in funding dollars is not of great interest.
Why invest in HIV/AIDS?
Government officials may ask why HIV/AIDS should remain a priority for Federal investment as opposed to other infectious diseases or autoimmune disorders. The answer to this conundrum lies in fiscal numbers. The cost of treating HIV multiplied by 50,000 new infections per year (an amount that has also remained stagnant over the past few years) equals a collective lifetime treatment cost of approximately $9.5 billion per year. Meanwhile, investing in evidence-based treatments and prevention programs could save nearly 5X that amount, i.e. $40.5 billion in lifetime healthcare costs by 2020 if we prevent 240,000 new infections. Forty billion dollars could make a huge difference to other national high-priority areas of investment, such as education and clean energy.
The importance of HIV/AIDS research.
Federally-funded research on HIV/AIDS has saved millions of lives globally. Had it not been for NIH-funded grants incentivizing HIV and AIDS research, we would not know the benefits of early initiation, treatment, and testing in curtailing the spread of the virus. Furthermore, grants from both the CDC and NIH have allowed independent researchers to discover prevention tools such as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in blocking the onset of the virus among high-risk populations such as injection drug-users. Despite incredible advances in HIV/AIDS research, our work is not yet done. Scientists are on the brink of developing even more effective prevention tools such as microbicides and vaccines to prevent HIV transmission. Now is not the time to risk stopping further scientific progress by cutting the availability of federal funds for HIV research. The proposed amount allocated to HIV/AIDS research is severely inadequate and needs to be increased to accelerate progress in discovering prevention tools and ultimately a cure.
The need for behavioral and social science research
The lack of investment in HIV/AIDS research reflects a bigger issue of a growing disinterest in behavioral and social sciences research. BSSR was quite obviously absent from the HIV/AIDS research priorities set forth by NIH this past year. The progression of HIV and the development of AIDS are not isolated to physical and immunological symptoms. Often, the disease is accompanied by mental health and in some cases, substance abuse issues not yet understood by the current body of research. BSSR is vital to understanding these issues in persons living with HIV so that we can treat them on a holistic level and improve their overall quality of life.
What can you do to help?
Find your representative to see what they are doing to serve the needs of the research community in your area.
Learn more about the psychological effects of HIV/AIDS by visiting the APA Office on AIDS website.
Sign up for our Federal Action Network to receive updates on APA’s important public policy advocacy efforts in Congress on the issue of HIV/AIDS.
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