Colorado Plans Shift in HIV Prevention Programs From Outreach to Testing
Colorado health officials have said that they plan to shift the focus of their HIV prevention strategy from sex education programs in high schools and rural areas to programs aimed at identifying people who are already HIV-positive, the Denver Post reports. The number of new AIDS cases nationwide in 2002 rose for the first time in a decade to more than 42,000, and in Colorado, the number of new AIDS cases increased from 287 in 2001 to 311 in 2002. "We obviously need to do something different," Dr. Kees Rietmeijer, director of the sexually transmitted disease clinic at the Denver Public Health Department, said, adding, "There's a sense that 40,000 new infections a year is not acceptable" (Sherry, Denver Post, 9/25). The CDC has said that the current emphasis on community outreach prevention programs has proven ineffective. The agency in April released a new prevention strategy, which said that the government will invest most heavily in initiatives that focus on identifying people who are already HIV-positive (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/18). Within one year, Colorado doctors will begin incorporating HIV testing into regular patient visits, using rapid HIV tests, which can yield results within 20 minutes, according to Terry Tiller-Taylor, section chief for the STD/HIV branch of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment.
Rietmeijer said he fears that because of the planned shift in focus, "huge swaths" of people will not be properly educated about the risks of contracting HIV, according to the Post. However, the state must make "hard decisions" regarding HIV/AIDS prevention programs because the federal government provides Colorado with only $4 million each year in AIDS prevention funding, the Post reports (Denver Post, 9/25). Jackie Long, spokesperson for the Colorado AIDS Project, said that the federal government is asking local agencies to provide more services but is not allocating more money. She added that "programs geared toward winning the trust of young people at risk of getting AIDS" will suffer, according to the Denver Rocky Mountain News (Scanlon, Denver Rocky Mountain News, 9/25). In addition, many AIDS advocates worry that an increased emphasis on testing will lead to more new HIV cases, who will then seek treatment, counseling and other assistance from programs whose resources are already strained (Denver Post, 9/25).