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AIDS programs for E. Bay blacks lose U.S. funds


OAKLAND - Three community agencies in Alameda County that target African Americans have lost $900,000 in federal funding for AIDS education - a cut that public health officials and advocates say leaves a vacuum in services for a group whose numbers in the epidemic are surging.

Although only 17 percent of Alameda County residents are black, they constitute 41 percent of AIDS cases, according to the county Health Department; 54 percent of black people with AIDS are gay men; 25 percent are intravenous drug users.

Since the awards from the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta were announced this past spring, critics have charged that the CDC has abandoned organizations that serve black people.

The issue has gained so much attention that the NAACP and the Congressional Black Caucus are making inquiries into CDC funding decisions across the country.

Rep. Ron Dellums, D-Oakland, has written to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala and the CDC requesting reviews of the Alameda County grants. "Our community's needs cannot go unmet," said Dellums aide Michael Riggs. "We're in an emergency situation and something must be done."

The African American AIDS Support and Survival Institute (AMASSI), AIDS Project East Bay and California Prevention and Education Project had received $300,000 each for the past three years for education.

This year, only two community organizations in Alameda County, both in Oakland, received CDC grants: Asian Health Services - which was granted $300,000 last year - received $246,000 to serve Asian/Pacific Islander youth, and La Clinica de la Raza received $150,000 to serve IV drug users in the San Antonio and Fruitvale neighborhoods.

Record 482 agencies compete

Mary Willingham, a public health advisor for the CDC's division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, said that this year a record 482 U.S. organizations applied for 94 awards totaling $17 million. Seventy of the 94 awards went to organizations that serve African Americans.

But Christopher Smith, program director of New Village in San Francisco, said that while some organizations may serve black people, it doesn't necessarily mean they reach them.

"The money's not going to organizations that are by, for and about the target population," Smith said. Often, he said, such groups use a model that works for white groups. When this strategy works, he said, it usually reaches middle-class and educated minorities.

"What about the person who's on the street or the person in the inner city that's struggling with their sexuality, or who's trying to find health care or a meal?" he asked. "By and large, that's where the epidemic is living."

This year, Alameda County lost $800,000 in CDC funding, putting added pressure on the county Office of AIDS, which has only $1.3 million in state and county money to cover education and prevention programs for 1.3 million people. Education programs for black gay men receive 8 percent of the funds.

Roosevelt Mosby, an AIDS activist and gay black man who lives in Oakland, said the county needs to redirect money to the community hit hardest: African American men who have sex with men.

"When I first came to California (nine years ago), I didn't know people getting HIV who were African American," Mosby said. "Now . . . I've seen a lot of people die. In 1997, we are still having the same struggle (convincing people) that it is time for you all to fund us."

Education called crucial

Experts say that reducing the number of AIDS cases in the black community hinges on education. Before the CDC cut funding, AMASSI and the AIDS Project East Bay mostly educated black gay men, while Cal-PEP focused predominantly on black prostitutes and their partners.

Such education is crucial, says Dr. Robert Scott. Scott, an Oakland internist who handles AIDS patients, recalled a 24-year-old man who recently discovered he was HIV-positive.

"He started having sex at 14. He has three children (aged 7 to 10). He was incarcerated when he found out," Scott said. "This was a man who had no idea he was at risk. People don't realize they're putting themselves at risk. Those kids in high school are going out to take these chances."

San Francisco AIDS education consultant Toni Young sees a crisis at many levels for the groups: Most don't pursue private dollars; the success of protease inhibitors has made AIDS less of a priority for some; and an influx of low-income people - displaced from razed San Francisco housing projects - has increased pressure on the county.

"We have to figure out how to support Alameda County, which will always live in San Francisco's shadow," Young said.

Michael Shaw, education and prevention director for the Office of AIDS in Oakland, said part of the problem has been that the people most willing to start an organization sometimes lack the expertise to manage big budgets.

For example, AMASSI was told it was too fiscally and administratively unsound to receive money - a charge that stemmed from a 1996 county audit recommending improved accounting practices.

Although the county had offered to help the organization and act as its fiscal agent, the CDC denied the grant request anyway.

Cal-PEP also has a mark on its record: In 1993, the state fined the organization for financial mismanagement. But because Cal-PEP appealed the claim and won, Shaw believes it had little effect on the CDC's decision. In fact, Cal-PEP has a $288,138 grant from the San Francisco AIDS Office.

Dellums writes to CDC

Dellums wants the CDC to reconsider its decision not to fund Oakland's African American programs. In an Aug. 18 letter to the CDC, he suggested it offer such organizations technical assistance to improve management and accounting. If that doesn't work, he wrote, the CDC should grant the funds to the county office, which could administer them to an organization it would monitor.

But others, including AIDS patient advocate Earnest Hite, say the county is to blame for not contributing more to battling the problem. Alameda contributes just $150,000 of its $1.3million education prevention budget.

AIDS office director Ronald Person said the county is looking for funds to soften the blow felt by the three programs.

"We definitely won't be able to match the $900,000 that was lost," he said, "but we're going to try to do what we can."


Copyright © 1997 -The Bangkok Pos, Publisher. All rights reserved to San Francisco Examiner. All rights reserved. Reproduced with permission. Reproduction of this article (other than one copy for personal reference) must be cleared through the San Francisco Examiner, Permissions Desk, 110 Fifth Street, P.O. Box 7260, San Franciso, CA 94120.San Francisco Examiner

Information in this article was accurate in September 10, 1997. The state of the art may have changed since the publication date. This material is designed to support, not replace, the relationship that exists between you and your doctor. Always discuss treatment options with a doctor who specializes in treating HIV.