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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 22, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 8
NAPWA shuts down after 30 years
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NAPWA shuts down after 30 years

'Keep up the good fight,' oldest AIDS group urges

This month will stand as a bittersweet milestone in the 30-plus-year history of the domestic HIV/AIDS pandemic. First, President Barack Obama included 'the promise of an AIDS-free generation' in his State of the Union Address. But only days later, the National Association of People With AIDS (NAPWA) ceased operations amid a six-figure debt and questions regarding its financial management, according to a February 15 report in the Washington Blade. The group posted a statement on its website (www.napwa.org) announcing it has filed for bankruptcy protection.

'NAPWA has been the leading voice for people living with HIV/AIDS,' said Leisha McKinley-Beach, director of stakeholder engagement and technical assistance at the Los Angeles-based Black AIDS Institute. 'That remarkable voice sounded a battle cry that HIV-positive people were here and they matter.'

Founded in 1983, NAPWA for three decades was the oldest and perhaps the most trusted voice for the 1.2 million people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States - a population that is disproportionately Black and low-income.

African Americans and other Black communities represent only 14% of the nation's population but account for some 44% of all new HIV infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

FOUGHT 'VICTIM' LABEL
NAPWA challenged the framing of the new disease in the dark days of the epidemic in the 1980s. The group rejected the then-common description of 'AIDS victims' and instead embraced 'people living with HIV/AIDS' (PLWHA). The group also founded National HIV Testing Day in 1998, the nation's first national HIV awareness day, among many other achievements.

Another early achievement: NAPWA demanded that PLWHA should be 'at the table to speak for themselves' when medical and policy decisions were being made.

'Thirty years later, that is recognized as best practice in medical and policy settings and will continue to be for as long as HIV is still with us, 'said NAPWA's board of directors in a statement on the group's website, announcing its declaration of bankruptcy.

'NAPWA had an historic role for all Americans who have lived with HIV/AIDS,' said Jesse Milan, Jr., chair emeritus of the Black AIDS Institute. 'We owe a great debt to its brave founders, staff, and board members. They paved the way for PLWHA across the nation to live longer and healthier lives, free of stigma and discrimination.'

A CHANGING PICTURE
NAPWA's end comes as the domestic HIV/AIDS pandemic is at a crossroads. There is an expanding suite of biomedical HIV prevention strategies such as 'treatment as prevention' and pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. There is also a general bipartisan political consensus on funding initiatives such as the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program and the AIDS Drug Assistance Program. PLWHA also will enjoy historic access to treatment and care, thanks in large part to President Obama's re-election and the Affordable Care Act.

Unfortunately, many obstacles remain on the road to 'the promise of an AIDS-free generation.' Black Americans continue to suffer from many HIV-related health disparities. Many of our communities are fighting the epidemic at the same time they face high levels of discrimination, stigma, homophobia, unemployment, and/or homelessness. Infections are rising fastest in the Southern states, which are disproportionately Black and low-income. Those states' governments are overwhelmingly conservative and tend to oppose expanding health care access.

'NAPWA will be missed but its role should never be forgotten,' added Milan.

'The founding mission of NAPWA is still relevant,' said Black AIDS Institute First Vice-Chair Grazell R. Howard.

NAPWA's online statement concludes, 'Keep up the good fight! With or without NAPWA, we can end new HIV infections in our generation. And if we can, we must.'

And keep up the fight, we will.

Editor's note: This article was adapted from a Black AIDS Institute press release.

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