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Velazquez Calls for Federal Funding to Combat Rising AIDS/HIV Rates in Puerto Rico

Velázquez Calls for Federal Funding to Combat Rising AIDS/HIV Rates in Puerto Rico
June 15, 2007
Press Release

WASHINGTON – Following her request last week to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for an investigation into the state of treatment for HIV/AIDS patients in Puerto Rico, Congresswoman Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.) today introduced H.R. 2736, the HIV Emergency Local Partnership Act of 2007. The legislation provides comprehensive services to minority residents in New York City, Puerto Rico, and across the nation, who disproportionately suffer from this epidemic.

“The growing number of HIV and AIDS cases in Puerto Rico is daunting,” said Congresswoman Velázquez. “We cannot tolerate this kind of suffering, particularly when medical advances and educational programs are available, with proven success in decreasing the number of casualties. This is why I have called for a GAO investigation into HRSA’s oversight of treatment services in Puerto Rico. The patients need help immediately, and it is for this reason that I am introducing this bill today.”

With 12,000 AIDS patients and an estimated 12,000 more infected but not yet diagnosed, Puerto Rico has the fifth-highest concentration of cases of all the states and territories. Yet the Commonwealth’s Medicaid funding restrictions impairs their ability to provide the health care services that patients need to survive. This deficiency forces the Puerto Rican government to shoulder nearly the entire burden at a time when it cannot meet the growing needs of the population. The HIV Emergency Local Partnership Act of 2007 lifts these restrictions, allowing the federal government to fund the island’s Medicaid budget.

“The lack of care in Puerto Rico is unacceptable in any circumstance,” said Congresswoman Velázquez. “But it is especially unacceptable if lack of federal funding to treat patients is part of the problem. People’s lives may currently be at risk needlessly as a result of this. We must lift the restrictions on Medicaid funding for patients in Puerto Rico now, before the problem gets further out of control.”

The bill also addresses ethnic and racial disparities in rates of infection across the nation by injecting an additional 50 million dollars into the Ryan White grant budget, to provide comprehensive services to minority populations. It is estimated that while African Americans account for only 12 percent of the general population, they make up 50 percent of patients. Similarly, while Latinos make up 14 percent of the population, they make up 19 percent of patients. H.R. 2736 will play a critical role in addressing these issues, ensuring that minority communities have access to the treatment they rely on.

“Latinos and African Americans in this country are contracting HIV and AIDS at an alarming rate,” said Congresswoman Velázquez. “We must devote the necessary resources to improving the health of communities disproportionately affected by this illness. This bill will increase testing, prevention, and treatment in our community.”

The HIV Emergency Local Partnership Act of 2007 is cosponsored by: Luis Fortuño (R-Puerto Rico), Jose Serrano (D-NY), and Hilda Solis (D-CA).