The City of Boston Receives $14.3 Million ‘Ryan White Grant’ to Support HIV Services

More than 15,000 people are currently living with HIV/AIDS in Greater Boston.

The past weekend, HBO aired “The Normal Heart,” a haunting film based on Larry Kramer’s play of the same name, which depicts life in the early 1980s for gay men in New York City. Their lives were being turned upside down by a new virus that the men were calling “gay cancer.” The heartbreaking film showed us a whole generation of gay men who were being taken too soon by a virus that was ravaging the city and parts of the world.

Two days after it aired, I still can’t stop thinking about it. The movie was an education (and a must-see if you haven’t watched it yet), and so, it’s with incredibly coincidental timing that the Boston Public Health Commission announced Tuesday that the City of Boston has a received $14.3 million grant under the federal “Ryan White Part A Program” to provide a range of HIV health and support services to the more than 15,000 people living with HIV/AIDS in Greater Boston. Officials say that this year’s funding represents a 10 percent increase over last year’s award.

The Ryan White Program is named after Ryan White, a Midwestern teen who was diagnosed with AIDS at age 13 in December of 1984. He got the virus from a blood transfusion, and at the time, because the disease was still so new and misunderstood, he was kicked out of school. (The original “The Normal Heart” play aired in 1985, just when the world was finally realizing, perhaps partly due to Ryan White, that this was not indeed a “gay cancer.”)

Ryan White and his mother fought for his right to attend school, which became a media firestorm and the triggering event that pushed the HIV/AIDS crisis into the mainstream, something that the men in “The Normal Heart” had tried to do for years. At the age of 18, in 1990, Ryan White passed away. It was just months before Congress passed the AIDS bill that bears his name—the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act. The legislation has been reauthorized four times since—in 1996, 2000, 2006, and 2009—and is now called the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program.

“These funds will allow us to continue to make a positive impact on the lives of those living with HIV,” said Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission. “Through an increase in medical case management, nutrition services, and housing assistance, our clients will benefit from a whole health approach to managing their condition, as well as combating other chronic diseases.”

According to the news release:

Clients from seven counties in Massachusetts and three counties in southern New Hampshire will directly benefit from the increase. The Boston Public Health Commission (BPHC) administers the funds to local community health centers and other community-based organizations from Boston to Worcester, down to New Bedford, and north to Nashua. A total of 37 agencies, comprised of 63 programs, have been awarded Ryan White funding by the Commission. These organizations provide a range of services including access to medications, comprehensive case management, oral health care, substance abuse and mental health services, home delivered meals, housing support, transportation, and support groups.

“It is critically important to keep people living with HIV (PLWH) engaged in care, adhering to medication, and achieving positive health outcomes,” said Michael Goldrosen, director of BPHC’s HIV/AIDS Services Division. “These funds will help ensure that we can maintain an accessible and comprehensive system of HIV care. As the Affordable Care Act is implemented throughout the country, the care model created here in this region demonstrates how critically important Ryan White funding is to providing comprehensive care. Our expansive services ensure our clients adhere to treatment, stay in medical care and have more successful health outcomes, while also reducing HIV transmission.”

According to the news release, in 2011, there was 196 cases of HIV diagnosed in Boston, and less than half of the diagnosed (47 percent) were men who have sex with men.

Additional services and access to care will be particular important in the region’s communities of color, where HIV/AIDS rates are 5-6 times higher. People of color and men who have sex with men (who may or may not identify as gay or bisexual) are disproportionally affected. Of the 196 cases of HIV diagnosed in Boston in 2011, 68% were Black or Latino and 47% were men who have sex with men. The Minority AIDS Initiative, a subset of Ryan White, will provide continued assistance and additional medical case management and peer support services to African American and Hispanic clients in the area with the bolstered funding.

For more information on the Ryan White funding, visit bphc.org.