Psycho-what? Services for Women are disappearing

By Naina Khanna –  There appears to be a disturbing trend taking place in cities and counties all over the country… the quiet de-funding of women-centered HIV services. This means HIV+ women have fewer places to go for peer support, support groups, mental health services, and other critical services.

As local and state health departments and private funders align with the goals of President Obama’s National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS), which explicitly failed to identify women as a priority population, women-focused HIV organizations and services are disappearing from the map.  The Denver-based Women’s Lighthouse Project, serving HIV-positive women since 1997, closed its doors in November 2010.  And at the time of writing this article, BABES Network-YWCA, an HIV-positive women-based and serving organization in Seattle, WA, had just lost all its Ryan White Part A funding and its funding for psychosocial support under Ryan White Part D – nearly 75% of its’ total budget.

According to Amelia Vader, Program Manager at BABES Network-YWCA, the Washington State Department of Health claims the shift away from funding psychosocial support is necessary to redirect resources to the state’s AIDS Drugs Assistance Program (ADAP), a program that provides HIV medications for low or no cost.  But the impact on ADAP is likely to be small compared to BABES’ reach.  WA does not have an ADAP waiting list yet and, while BABES serves over 230 women annually, Vader has been informed that the resources will be used to reserve 20 ADAP spots for women, if and when a waitlist is put in place.

The cuts mean a 75% reduction in BABES’ program budget, and a significant reduction in staff and services provided to keep women in care.  “BABES has been around since 1989,” says Vader. “Folks who know our programs are outraged. They know it doesn’t make sense to provide [HIV medications] for women without addressing the barriers that prevent them from accessing medical care in the first place.”

In the U.S., it is estimated that over half of people living with HIV (PLWH) are not in regular medical care.  Studies repeatedly show that race, gender, socioeconomic status and geography play a significant role in determining health outcomes for PLWH.  Support groups and peer-based programs are often cited by PLWH as their most important needs.  “When asked to identify gaps in our needs assessment, women cited psychosocial support as #1,” says Vader.  “ADAP was #10.  ADAP is critically important but it is not a gap – yet.”

Have you seen allocations or women-centered services changing? Contact us and let us know!

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