San Francisco Slashes HIV Prevention Budget for Asian Americans

By SUNITA SOHRABJI August 04, 2011 02:31:00 PM

SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. – The San Francisco Department of Public Health is drastically cutting funding for HIV treatment and prevention in the Asian American Pacific Islander community and has allocated no money to stem the spread of the virus in Asian American women whose rates of HIV infections are on the rise.

Over the past four years, Asian Americans have had the highest increase in new HIV infections, going up from six percent to 10.3 percent. “Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that the HIV infection rate in A&PI communities will surpass that of Latinos by 2015 and of African Americans by 2020 if left unchecked,” said Tri Do, an assistant adjunct professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, in an earlier story (I-W, May 27).

Only 10 percent of API gay and bisexual men and less than one percent of all APIs in San Francisco have been tested for the HIV virus.

San Francisco annually awards $9.7 million in funding to organizations within the city that work on HIV treatment and prevention. But the city is rolling out a new plan for prevention – known as New Directions – which primarily funds organizations working with Caucasian, African American and Latino gay men, according to API community advocates.

“Trikone is saddened by the San Francisco Public Health Department’s decision to slash funding for HIV/AIDS programs affecting the API community,” Harsha Mallajosyula, advocacy director for Trikone – an organization for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people – told India-West.

“Surveys have consistently shown that the API community is one of the most vulnerable communities to new HIV infections and these budget cuts will only curtail the testing and awareness efforts taking place in earnest,” he said.

“Allocating resources should correlate with consistent data that places API community in high risk category and not on how visible our community is. The department’s decision clearly implies that our struggles – as the API community – do not matter,” stated Mallajosyula.

The SFDPH has cut its entire annual allocation of $350,000 to the Asian and Pacific Islander Wellness Center, which claims to be the only organization in San Francisco working on HIV prevention with the API community.

“We’ve been funded by the City for 25 years,” Lina Sheth, director of community development and external affairs at the A&PI Wellness Center, told India-West, adding that the organization would have to cut out its youth programs and drastically reduce its services to gay and bisexual men. The Wellness Center operates on an annual budget of $3.5 million, from federal funding and private grants and donations.

The organization also does not have funding to provide direct HIV prevention to Asian American women in San Francisco. “In the New Directions program, women are completely excluded,” stated Sheth, noting that API women tend to get tested at very late stages, when they already have AIDS.

“As a community, we are very family-oriented, and the stigma of having AIDS is so deep, we wouldn’t want to dishonor our family by saying we have it,” said Sheth, explaining why more APIs do not get tested for the virus.

The Asian American community needs “culturally competent” organizations to provide HIV prevention services, said Sheth.

But Grant Colfax, director of the HIV Prevention and Research Section in the San Francisco Department of Public Health AIDS Office, said the City would ensure that APIs received HIV prevention. “They have not been cut out of the budget,” he told India-West.

The New Directions program has allocated funds proportionately within ethnicities, dedicating the biggest allotment to high-risk groups, said Colfax.

According to data from the SFDPH, Caucasian, African American and Latino gay males are at the highest risk for acquiring new HIV infections, along with transgendered men and intravenous drug users. Asian Americans represented 11 percent of all new HIV infections in 2010, and 8.7 percent of people living with AIDS.

Colfax said his budget was based on AIDS data for 2010, and added that 8.7 percent of funding – roughly $844,000 – would be allocated to organizations working on HIV prevention in the API community.

Asked to name such organizations, Colfax pointed to Magnet, an organization for gay men which offers free sexual health services, including HIV testing. Magnet, however, has no APIs on its staff or advisory board and its Web site featured no Asian American men.

There is no evidence of an increase in HIV infections among Asian American women in San Francisco, stated Colfax, adding that the SFDPH is working to make HIV testing a routine part of health care screenings.

In an Aug. 1 meeting with several lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender organizations, Colfax acknowledged that APIs were a “gap population” and promised to look at additional options for HIV prevention for Asian Americans.

Copyright 2011 India-West Publications Inc. This article may not be reproduced in any form without written permission of the publisher.

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