Milwaukee health advocates are calling for the restoration of funding to combat the epidemic of HIV and STDs in the wake of a shocking uptick in their city. More than 125 people, including teenagers, recently contracted HIV and/or syphilis, a situation that the National Coalition of STD Directors characterized as “a symptom of under-resourced STD programs.”
In 2012, Governor Scott Walker signed an abstinence-only sex education bill, which experts like Advocates for Youth say are ineffective at stopping sexual activity or reducing teen pregnancy. Reinstating evidence-based in-school sexual health education programs, which Walker cut, is also essential to addressing the epidemic. Wisconsin has also rejected expanding Medicaid, which provides critical health care to at-risk populations.
News of the epidemic comes just two months after the Trump-Pence administration proposed to slash more than $60 million for HIV & AIDS prevention programming from the federal budget.
“These numbers are alarming and clearly indicative of a disturbing gap -- not only in the provision of services, but in public education among Milwaukee's young people,” said HRC Wisconsin State Manager Wendy Strout. “The failure to fund critical prevention programs leads to outbreaks like this, ultimately costing us more in terms of dollars and lives than any public education campaign ever would. To achieve an AIDS-free generation, we must fight for it. Here, and across the nation, we must insist that our elected officials treat this epidemic like the national emergency it is, and ensure that cities and states have the tools to combat it.”
The outbreak in Milwaukee exemplifies what sexual health advocates already know: failure to fund critical prevention programs can have devastating effects -- just ask Mike Pence.
During his term as governor of Indiana, Pence repeatedly ignored warning signs that there was a potential for an infectious disease outbreak of HIV in his state, and fought against programs designed to slow the surge of HIV cases in the state’s hardest-hit communities. It was only under enormous pressure that Pence was dragged “kicking and screaming” into taking action.
“As we have seen before in places like Indiana, in order for the public to stay safe and healthy, communities need comprehensive, fully-funded, evidence-based public health programming. HRC hopes that the Milwaukee community, working with leading HIV & AIDS prevention experts, can curb this outbreak, get those affected the treatment that they need, and put in place more community health resources to prevent a similar public health crisis in the future,” said Peter Cruz, HRC Foundation Associate Director of HIV & Health Equity.
To learn more about the HIV epidemic and HIV prevention and treatment, visit What Do I Do? A Handbook to Understanding Health & HIV, a resource by HRC and AIDS United.