HIV programs face uncertain future after state budget cuts

By: 

News Reporter

Funds totaling $3 million originally used to prevent human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infections and other sexually transmitted diseases (STD) will be rerouted to abstinence-only education.

State representative Stuart Spitzer (R-Kaufman) helped usher in the Republican-sponsored shift in funds over two years from HIV/STD prevention to abstinence education, according to an April 2 press release from Spitzer. The state of Texas risks losing federal funding after this move, said Kanaka Sathasivan, AIDS Services of Austin (ASA) communications coordinator.

“The federal funds are dependent on how much state funds there are,” Sathasivan said. “A reduction in state HIV funding could directly impact the number of federal funds.”

Representatives of ASA and other HIV prevention programs are unsure how these cuts might affect their budgets, Sathasivan said. ASA is primarily funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The cuts will not influence any services available at the university student health center but could affect high school students in Texas, said Julie Eckert, student health center assistant director.

“We might see more students who don’t understand what HIV and STIs are (because of the budget cuts),” Eckert said.

ASA has a health insurance assistance program that receives state funds, and Texas’ budget cuts from HIV prevention could affect recipients, Sathasivan said.

“Scientifically, the prevention programs are what’s really shown to work to stop the spread of HIV,” Sathasivan said. “Especially in the long term, these budget changes aren’t going to increase abstinence. They’re just going to increase the spread of HIV.”

Spitzer said in the press release he felt moving the funds toward abstinence education would help lower the HIV/STD rate.

“With Texas still being the third-highest HIV/STD rate, the effectiveness of related awareness programs should be put into question,” Spitzer said in the relase. “On the surface it would appear to be a larger failure than the abstinence education, with $191 million spent on HIV/STD awareness annually.”

However, representatives of the Texas Freedom Network (TFN), an organization dedicated to improving public schools and preventing evangelism in the public sphere, contested Spitzer’s statement, said Dan Quinn, TFN communications director.

“Any time you take money out of prevention programs, you’re making it harder for those programs to do what they’re supposed to do,” Quinn said. “Then why in the world is (Spitzer) switching millions of dollars over from programs that do work to something that even he acknowledges doesn’t work really well?”

Quinn said Spitzer admitted on the house floor during a debate on the HIV prevention budget that abstinence was not necessarily effective.

The “vast majority” of Texas schools already teach students to abstain, Quinn said. Teens are already sexually active despite abstinence education.

“That’s what’s happening in Texas right now, so let’s deal with the reality here,” Quinn said.

Fifty-two percent of high school students were sexually active as of 2011, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

According to the same survey, 54 percent of sexually active students reported using a condom, and 20 percent reported using no contraceptives during intercourse. According to the HHS department, 81 percent of high school students reported learning about AIDS/HIV in class.