HIV-prevention experts are warning that a federal funding decrease announced last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will significantly curtail their efforts to stop the virus from spreading in Montana.
"A lot of services are being cut," says David Herrera from Missoula nonprofit FDH & Associates, which performed 220 HIV tests last year. "It's only a matter of time before you see an increase in infections."
Laurie Kops from the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services oversees distribution of federal HIV prevention funding to contractors such as FDH. She says the CDC's January announcement has left 17 statewide nonprofits like FDH grappling with gutted budgets.
This year's cut marks the second in two years. In 2012, HIV prevention and education funding in Montana totaled $1.2 million. This year, it's down to just $674,000. Kops says that the funding decreases are endangering even the most basic efforts.
"If we run out of (HIV) tests before the end of the year, then we are out of tests," she says. "When you're cut this much money, I don't know what's going to happen."
The decrease comes in the wake of a June 2011 directive from the CDC to focus resources on regions with the highest per capita number of HIV infections. Montana, with roughly 21 new cases diagnosed annually, is considered a "low-incidence" state.
Missoula Open Aid Alliance Executive Director Christa Weathers notes that because philanthropic organizations are following the federal government's lead and channeling resources to urban areas, HIV service organizations such as hers are finding themselves in increasingly precarious positions.
"We're seeing HIV-prevention funding being cut from pretty much all directions," she says.
Weathers says the problem is that while Montana has comparably fewer cases than, say, Seattle, HIV is still here. For example, she notes that between October and December, Missoula, Flathead and Lake county health officials diagnosed eight new HIV infections.
Medications for those diagnosed with the virus cost roughly $1,500 per month and are required for life to keep the disease in check. An HIV test runs $12.50. In light of those numbers, Weathers argues that the federal budget cuts are shortsighted.
"It's much more affordable to prevent than to treat," she says.
According to the CDC, one in four people infected with HIV don't know they've contracted the virus.