The Ventura County AIDS Partnership (VCAP) will be throwing in the towel at the end of 2012 after 17 years of funding and supporting local organizations that provide AIDS care and HIV prevention programs, mainly due to national funding cuts. AIDS United, formerly National AIDS Fund, the longtime partner of VCAP, has developed a new plan with a specific focus on highly impacted communities.
“There has been a lot of change at the national level,” said Madhu Bajaj, executive director of VCAP. “We’ve seen dramatic budget cuts. … Ventura County is not really falling into their scope of work anymore.”
Over the last several years, VCAP has been funding mainly prevention programs such as Positively Speaking, an HIV preventive educational program at Planned Parenthood. “We’re hopeful that they will find the resources to continue that program,” said Bajaj.
Positively Speaking is a program aimed at recruiting individuals who are HIV-positive or HIV-affected to speak in the community. “[The speakers] aren’t only sharing their stories, but throughout, they’re also interweaving prevention messages … putting a face to the epidemic and instilling compassion for people living with HIV,” said Anna Lopez, community health education coordinator for Planned Parenthood of Santa Barbara, Ventura and San Luis Obispo Counties. “As an organization at Planned Parenthood, we are committed to the Positively Speaking program … but ultimately it does depend on us being able to replace the VCAP funds.
“I’m definitely saddened by the course that VCAP is having to take,” said Lopez. Though the future for VCAP may be grim, Lopez said she expects the program to pull through. “[VCAP is] still committed to the cause and they’re still willing to help us.”
Lopez said that she is grateful for VCAP’s efforts to connect Positively Speaking coordinators with donors and other possible funding sources. “We’re hoping to replace the funding so that we can go forward in providing the program in as many venues as we possibly can.”
Doug Halter, founding advisory council member of VCAP and volunteer speaker for the Positively Speaking program, said he’s worried for the future of programs like Positively Speaking. “The younger generation takes it for granted that there is at least medication now but people forget and don’t realize the complexity of the medication.”
Halter has been living with AIDS in Ventura County since his diagnosis in 1987. “I’ve been very fortunate,” said Halter. “I didn’t think I’d see 30, not to mention 51.”
“[AIDS United has] chosen to identify 12 higher-risk areas where they can have more bang for their buck and Ventura County is not one of them,” said Halter. “With [VCAP] closing its doors we’ve basically had to come to grips with the fact that there has to be a new model to address the needs of our region. The National AIDS fund won’t be part of that model.”
There are an estimated 1,300-1,500 people living in Ventura County currently with HIV or AIDS, according to Lynn Bartosh, HIV/AIDS surveillance coordinator at Ventura County Public Health. “The total number from the county is going to continue to rise,” said Bartosh. “We have people living longer and people moving here with the infection.”
Bartosh went on to say that in Ventura County there has been a trend of more people getting diagnosed with full-blown AIDS than testing positive for HIV, which does not reflect national statistics. In 2011, 30 new AIDS cases (people who have not been tested since contraction of HIV) and 26 new HIV cases were diagnosed — typically more people in country are diagnosed with HIV than AIDS in general for the first time when it comes to the disease. “The national average is 35 [to] 45 percent,” said Bartosh. “Our (Ventura County) percentage has been higher, above 60 percent the last several years.”
“Fifty percent of the new cases of AIDS are people under 25,” said Halter. “It’s fascinating when I go and speak at a college and I see people sitting in that room and I know there’s not one person in that room that knows this world prior to AIDS.”
Halter said he plans to continue doing what he can to contribute to the cause regardless of the current funding issues. “Our energy is still present,” said Halter. “I know most of us who have participated in VCAP will continue to participate in other ways and continue fighting this epidemic until there is a cure.”