AIDS activists held a rally Wednesday at the statehouse in Boston to call on lawmakers to restore $3 million in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment funds cut from the Massachusetts state budget in January. Those cuts, which affected HIV prevention programs, home care services, transportation assistance, and education programs, come on top of more than $12 million in HIV/AIDS funds already cut from the budget over the past 15 months. During the same period, the number of HIV cases has risen 6% in the state, according to Project ABLE, a statewide coalition of AIDS service providers, advocates, and people with HIV/AIDS. Project ABLE officials say that due to the budget cuts, 5,000 fewer HIV antibody tests were given in Massachusetts in 2002 than in 2001, and even fewer are expected to be administered in 2003 because many HIV/AIDS service organizations cannot afford to pay for them without state funding. Other programs providing direct support to HIV-positive people will be reduced or eliminated this year because of the additional cuts.
"This is a public health disaster, and even if you're not interested in the lives, in the dignity of the people who are suffering, you've got to be interested in the numbers," said Democratic state senator Jarrett Barrios, who spoke at the rally. Other speakers encouraged AIDS activists to continue to lobby legislators to restore the funding, even if it means implementing tax increases.