HIV prevention funding cut as new outbreak hits western MT


MISSOULA, Mont. - Montana Department of Health and Human Services officials say an HIV outbreak has hit western Montana.

Laurie Kops, HIV/STD/HCV Section Supervisor for the state of Montana, says eight people in Missoula, Lake and Flathead counties tested HIV positive in the last 4 months -- almost half the yearly average of confirmed cases in the entire state.

The news comes just as the organizations that work to prevent HIV take a big funding hit.

"Because we're so dependent on federal funding, we honestly are at the mercy of the feds," said Kops. "We used to have $1.2 million for a number of years (for HIV), and then progressively in the last 2 years, we've been cut."

Kops says last year the state lost $300,000 of federal funding for HIV prevention and treatment from the federal sequestration cuts. She says new cuts announced this week total nearly $700,000.

David Herrera, director of the Montana Gay Men's Task Force, says the new cuts mean his organization will lose $20,000 in funding for HIV testing and services.

"These cuts are going to have much more of an impact because organizations such as ours are saying 'OK, where else do we cut, other than now having to eliminate programs and personnel?' So that's really a very difficult decision that organizations are going to making in the next couple weeks."

For Missoula resident Dave Stalling, it's personal.

"It hits pretty close to home, particularly for a lot of young people and people coming out of the closet," said Stalling. It's critical they know this information and have a safe and anonymous place they can go."

Herrera argues the cuts could ultimately cost more money than they save.

"Do they want HIV infections to increase in our state? Is that what we need to have happen? It's a lot more cost effective to prevent an HIV infection than it is to pay for the treatment for someone who is already is infected."

This is the second HIV outbreak to hit western Montana in 2 years. Between November 2011 and March 2012, 12 people in the Missoula area tested HIV positive.