Lost Grants Hurt AIDS Prevention Efforts for Teens
CDC Now Focuses Funds On Those Already Infected
By Arielle Levin Becker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, July 19, 2004; Page B01
It's T-shirt night at the Metro TeenAIDS drop-in center, where posters with slogans encouraging teenagers to get tested for HIV line the pastel blue and yellow walls.
Next to a row of mirrors on one wall, a few teenagers hover over blank T-shirts and a boombox, chatting quietly. A few feet away, the program's counselor arranges iron-on letters on a shirt to spell S-A-F-E S-E-X.
Tucked in a basement off Pennsylvania Avenue SE, the Metro TeenAIDS drop-in center has offered youth a place to go after school and advice on safe sex, drugs and decision making, in hopes of keeping teenagers safer in a city with the nation's highest HIV rate.
But because Metro TeenAIDS lost $250,000 in federal funding this spring, T-shirt night and other programs face an uncertain future.
Metro TeenAIDS is one of a few youth AIDS organizations in the area grappling with staff and program cuts after their federal grants expired this spring and they failed to win renewed funding. Metro TeenAIDS managers laid off three of four outreach and education specialists and are facing more program cuts.
It's the same story in Prince William County, where Northern Virginia AIDS Ministry is cutting youth education programs. NOVAM expects to reach 6,400 fewer teenagers with its school- and church-based activities this year.
The National Organization of Concerned Black Men is suspending its in-school HIV-prevention programs, which served about 1,200 students in the District and were launched as models for the organization's branches nationwide. And after losing $250,000 in funding from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Sasha Bruce Youthwork agency is cutting its street outreach service from five days a week to two and suspending a play about AIDS that it has performed at group homes and shelters in the District.
Funding losses for those four groups, the hardest hit in the area, total nearly $1 million. The organizations' grants were not renewed because of a new CDC initiative that focuses most available AIDS money on helping people who have HIV, rather than on preventive measures.
Leaders of the youth programs say the new policy neglects the needs of teenagers, and they worry that HIV rates among young people will surge in the coming years -- particularly in the District, where the rate of sexually active high school students is nearly a third higher than in the nation as a whole. Some leaders also say the funding cuts to their organizations reflect the Bush administration's discomfort with programs for teenagers that teach safe sex rather than abstinence.
But Robert Janssen, director of the CDC's HIV-prevention programs, said it's a question of limited resources. The reality is that the disease is far more prevalent among older Americans, and that's where the money should go, he said.
© 2004 The Washington Post Company
Lamar Anderson, 23, and Lydia Robinson, 21, work as outreach and education specialists at Metro TeenAIDS. Robinson is one of three specialists laid off after grant cuts, but she still volunteers.
(Kevin Clark -- The Washington Post)
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