The budget released today by Governor Deval Patrick is not enough to sustain the fight against HIV/AIDS in Massachusetts. State funding for outreach, prevention, and testing of HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis has been slashed by nearly 40% since 2000. During that same period, the number of people living with HIV/AIDS in Massachusetts has increased 44%, placing an even greater burden on already strained providers and services. Meanwhile, the numbers of those living with viral hepatitis continues to increase by approximately 7,000 to 10,000 people per year, with explosive growth among those aged 15-24 due largely to shared use of injection drug equipment.
Public investment in public health pays off. Since 1999, new diagnoses of HIV in Massachusetts have declined 52 percent, which has spared over 6,300 people from HIV infection, and will save the state more than $2.4 billion in health care costs. We urge lawmakers to increase funding for HIV/AIDS and viral hepatitis by $4 million to $36.1 million to ensure that this progress is sustained.
The Commonwealth also needs increased investment in testing and education for viral hepatitis, which causes inflammation of the liver and can lead to cirrhosis and increased risk of liver cancer. There are as many as 200,000 people living with hepatitis C in Massachusetts today. People can live with hepatitis for a decade or more before learning they have the disease, which greatly complicates their eventual treatment and increases the costs of care. Additionally, 14 percent of those living with HIV in Massachusetts are also coinfected with hepatitis C, which complicates treatment and dramatically drives up treatment costs. It is critical that the Commonwealth expands its outreach efforts to vulnerable populations to ensure that they are tested for hepatitis so that they can begin treatment as early in the disease progression as possible.
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