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The AIDS/HIV health crisis is now thirty years old and the subject continues to challenge society around the world. The Rule of Law has faced difficult challenges as the basic concept of individual rights and cultural mores clash. In California we have witnessed a long battle in the streets, the courts and the ballot box. The recent Proposition 8 battle regarding domestic partnerships has been in national headlines. All sides of this battle are passionate. The association of AIDS/HIV is not however an issue of sexual orientation although it is often politically charged because of that perception.

The American Bar Association has been a leader in providing a comprehensive and learned view of the legal aspects of HIV/AIDS. The ABA recently has published a report on the subject that should be read by all policy makers, politicians and journalists. The Report preamble by Shelley D. Hayes, Chair of the ABA AIDS Coordinating Committee sets the stage:

Too many Americans are living with chronic diseases without access to necessary care and treatment. Many of our citizens who are infected with HIV fall into that group of Americans.

As we approach the thirty year mark of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, it is appropriate for us as a nation to reflect on the distance we have traveled and the length of the road still ahead. We have made great strides in developing drugs that prolong the lives of those who take them. But, we have a long way to go before all who can be helped by those drugs know that there is help available and have access to that help. Even as public health officials move away from “AIDS exceptionalism,” stigma and discrimination continue to haunt those infected with HIV and limit their access to adequate care and treatment.

For more than 20 years, the American Bar Association has worked to raise the conscience of the bench, bar and public as it pertains to the legal issues raised by the HIV/AIDS epidemic in this country and around the globe. We bring those issues to the fore in 2009 in the hope that the much-discussed initiatives to reform health care in America will include a national response to the continuing domestic HIV/AIDS crisis.

Reporting that recent data indicates that the domestic HIV problem is greater than previously thought, the call for greater federal funding is justified to deal with this serious health issue:

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 56,300 new HIV infections occurred in the United States in 2006. This figure, based on improved data collection and analysis, is roughly 40% higher than CDC’s former longstanding estimate of 40,000 infections per year. Yet while federal funding for the global pandemic has increased markedly in recent years, funding for the domestic epidemic has been flat, cut, or increased only marginally, with potentially devastating consequences. Indeed, in the U.S. as elsewhere, HIV now affects primarily low-income communities of color, particularly women and youth, who long have experienced more limited access to public health systems, including to HIV prevention, care, treatment, and support services.

The comprehensive analysis in the ABA report covers the homeless population, access to health care, incarcerated populations, sex education, insurance, public assistance and testing programs.

This divisive health crisis must be addressed addressed by all of the decision-makers if we are to stem the tide of the tragedy that follows those affected. Congratulations to the ABA for adding this scholarly analysis to a subject that goes to the core of the Rule of Law.

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