Willamette Week (Portland, Oregon) (12.05.12)
Oregon officials plan to stop funding an HIV/AIDS hotline when the contract expires in March 2013. Since 1987, the hotline—which is run by Cascade AIDS Project (CAP)—has connected callers with testing and HIV/AIDS services, but state officials believe there are better ways to encourage its citizens to get tested for HIV/AIDS than spending $75,000 for a hotline.
Oregon lags behind the nation in early HIV/AIDS diagnosis. Nationally, approximately 32 percent of HIV diagnoses are made at a late stage, when the patient already has AIDS or develops it within 12 months of the diagnosis. Oregon state records show that 37 percent of diagnoses are late stage. This means that the individual has been living with the disease for 7–10 years before getting tested and may have been transmitting it to partners. There are 5,213 persons living with HIV/AIDS in Oregon, and 275 new infections are diagnosed each year. The Oregon Health Authority estimates 1,200 persons with HIV do not know their status.
Kim Toevs, manager for HIV, STD, and adolescent health in Multnomah County, argues that it is the wrong time to end the hotline, now that testing has become a key area of focus. State officials maintain that they would keep funding the hotline if it were making a big difference. According to Ruth Helsley, Oregon Health Authority’s HIV prevention program manager, the state examines its expenses to ensure that everything it funds is cost-effective and is best for public health. She explained that CAP was paid $75,000 in 2011 to operate the hotline, with an additional $10,000 for a public information campaign. With a drop in call numbers from 1994, when the hotline received 10,219 calls, to 882 in 2011, and even fewer during this year—the cost of a call is now $100. Also, Helsley noted that data from the hotline is not correlating with increased testing numbers. She emphasized that the Oregon health authority wants to better target at-risk populations by funding HIV testing, condom distribution, and needle exchanges and by linking people who test positive to health-care providers.
Michael Anderson-Nathe, director of education and prevention at CAP, disputes the state’s math, which he said excludes 11,000 visitors to the hotline’s website in the past two years, and states that callers to the hotline can be connected with testing services, clinics, or counseling. He explains that without the state contract, he will have to reduce staff as well as eliminate live chat and updated information on the website. Anderson-Nathe believes that AIDS prevention and treatment is losing steam just when social services knows what works and that a lack of political will and resources is retarding progress.