Solano Ending HIV/AIDS Services
By Lanz Christian Bañes/Times-Herald staff writer
The $80 million cut from the state Office of AIDS has stripped Solano County of its HIV/AIDS services. "As we speak, there are virtually no programs," said Peter Turner, supervising health education specialist for the county Department of Health and Social Services.
The county agency no longer offers HIV testing, HIV monitoring, prevention and outreach programs and AIDS case management, said Turner, who estimates between 1,500 and 2,000 people are living with HIV in Solano County.
This does not include the prison in Vacaville, which has about 500 HIV cases, Turner said.
HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, which shuts down a person's immune system. There is no cure for HIV.
The state Office of AIDS and subsequently local HIV/AIDS agencies were hard-hit after Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger cut $52 million on top of the $28 million in legislative cuts in July. The cuts also affected other areas of public health, such as the county's adolescent family life and black infant health programs, Turner said. "All those different programs have people who are at risk for HIV," Turner said.
Solano County might receive some federal money.
"Because of the number of cases that we have, we are one of 17 counties that are going to receive the remainder of the federal dollars that's in the Office of AIDS prevention budget," Turner said. However, this will only amount to about $100,000 -- a third of the agency's already tight budget, Turner said. Turner encourages those affected by the cuts to seek help in community clinics such as La Clinica or Planned Parenthood.
But these are also ill-prepared to handle a flood of new clients, said Monica Creer, project director for HIV and housing for the Planned Parenthood clinic in Vallejo. "We're seeing the impact now. Clients are calling to vent," Creer said. Twice this month, Creer dipped into the Planned Parenthood emergency fund for HIV/AIDS to pay for funerals of two clients. Like Turner, Creer painted a dire situation, noting also the cutbacks in Center Force, a program that transitioned HIV-positive inmates. "I started in (the HIV field) in 1989, and I'm having flashbacks. It seems like we're backtracking," Creer said.
The early 1980s marked the beginning of the worldwide AIDS pandemic when HIV and how it's transmitted was little understood. About 32 million people worldwide have died from AIDS since the 1980s, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development.
Mario Saucedo, president of advocacy group Solano AIDS Coalition, also likens the gutted budget situation to a return to the 1980s. "I really don't know what to say anymore," Saucedo said. The coalition organizes toy drives, food drives and fundraisers that benefit families affected by HIV/AIDS.
The coalition will hold a sale benefiting Planned Parenthood's emergency fund every Wednesday and Saturday starting this week for three weeks at 401 Georgia St.
Both Saucedo and Creer encourage getting involved, such as writing letters to representatives. "Write letters to whoever else will listen, because we're going to be burying them, burying our clients," Creer said.
For more information about the fundraiser, contact Saucedo at (707) 450-5861.