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June 19. 2012 10:43PM

Funding cuts force group to end free HIV/AIDS testing

NASHUA — New Hampshire’s only AIDS service organization will no longer be offering free HIV testing because of a $60,000 cut in federal funding.

“This goes against our entire mission. We are an HIV/AIDS service organization that can no longer provide free testing,” said Wendy LeBlanc, assistant director of the Southern New Hampshire HIV/AIDS Task Force.

She said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has restructured how it provides grants to organizations throughout the nation, now targeting urban areas with high percentages of HIV or AIDS patients.

States like New Hampshire — where there are lower reports of AIDS — are now receiving significantly less federal funds, LeBlanc said.

“We know that funding is being cut everywhere,” she said. “But we lost a staff person, which is going to be a big challenge for us.”

That full-time staff member had conducted the tests and also provided risk counseling to the men and women seeking assistance.

The cost for the HIV/AIDS testing is about $5,000 a year, LeBlanc said, but about $50,000 is needed to provide case management services, affordable housing, mental health and substance use disorder treatment, food pantry and nutritional services for existing clients, LeBlanc said.

LeBlanc said the task force typically conducts about 50 free and confidential tests a year. That is not a big number, but LeBlanc said those individuals probably would not be tested if they had to seek out a physician or pay for a test kit.

“Most of those we test have no health insurance and live at or below the poverty level,” she said. “They won’t be able to afford a test when they have trouble paying for food and rent.”

According to LeBlanc, there were 1,377 known cases of HIV/AIDS in New Hampshire tallied by the state Department of Public Health in 2009. About 43 percent of those cases are in Hillsborough County, she said; an estimated 40 new cases are reported each year. She said about 25 percent of people living with HIV are not aware of their diagnosis.

“We want to be able to test anyone who comes to us,” she said.

The Southern New Hampshire HIV/AIDS Task Force will ramp up its fundraising efforts in hopes of restoring free testing.

In the meantime, it will apply for additional grants and seek support from individual and corporate donors, according to LeBlanc. It will also be hosting its annual Thomas O. Cash Walk-a-thon in September, which raised about $5,000 last year.

Anyone interested in sponsorship opportunities is urged to call LeBlanc at 603-595-8464 x15.

National HIV Testing Day

The city will of Nashua will offer free HIV testing at its Community Health Clinic, 18 Mulberry St., from 3 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, June 27 — National HIV Testing Day.

For more information, call 603-589-4500.


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Kimberly Houghton may be reached at khoughton@newstote.com.


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