Planned Reduction in Milwaukee County, Wis., HIV/AIDS Prevention Funds Criticized During AIDS Walk Wisconsin
HIV/AIDS advocates in Milwaukee County, Wis., yesterday during the 13th annual AIDS Walk Wisconsin "blasted" a proposal by a county official to reduce funding by $230,000 for an HIV/AIDS prevention program, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. In proposing the cut to the county's HIV/AIDS prevention program last week, County Executive Scott Walker said that he did not believe HIV/AIDS prevention to be "a core function of the county" and that it should instead be handled by "the city or the state health department." Walker said he was particularly concerned about the county program because of its support of needle exchange for injection drug users in an attempt to prevent the spread of HIV. County funds do not go directly toward purchasing needles, but they do cover the cost of staffing the program, which supplies clean needles to injection drug users. Walker said last week that he is opposed to spending "tax dollars to support illegal activity" and that the "only reason" that the county had supported the program at its inception in 2000 was because "politically at the time, there was the least resistance to the needle program at the county level because not many people paid too much attention to what the county was doing." He added that officials "didn't hear from any masses of people saying, 'Don't cut this particular program'" during seven recent hearings on his budget proposal. But yesterday at the Milwaukee staging of AIDS Walk Wisconsin, activists spoke out against the cuts. "How can he say he's for reducing taxes and then cut needle exchange, which will increase the tax burden by millions of dollars as the number of HIV patients on county medical care skyrockets?" Doug Nelson, director of the AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin, said, noting that the annual number of new HIV cases attributable to injection drug use has declined from 80 to 26 since Wisconsin legalized needle-exchange programs in 1994. Nelson said that the first step to HIV prevention is to get drug users to use clean needles, then to move them into treatment and counseling. The county program "has a mission to get these people off of drugs, but it's a very hard thing to do. You have to be patient. ... The problem will only be solved by working with the drug users day in and day out," he added (Sussman, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 9/29). Yesterday's AIDS Walk Wisconsin, which was two walks held simultaneously in Milwaukee and Madison, drew about 5,000 participants and raised $522,107, compared to $621,000 last year, Bob Schwoch, a walk spokesperson said (AP/Minneapolis Star Tribune, 9/30).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.