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Thursday, November 15, 2007

dowtown protest


Outraged by U.S. government indifference to the escalating AIDS crisis in Puerto Rico, a dozen AIDS activists stopped traffic for half an hour in downtown Manhattan today to demand immediate federal oversight of Puerto Rico’s AIDS funding. All twelve were arrested at the intersection of Broadway and Worth streets, as a raucous crowd of about 75 supporters chanted “Puerto Rico AIDS Crisis, Save Lives Now.”

“The U.S. government has a responsibility to serve all of its people,” said Johnny Guaylupo, an openly HIV-positive Puerto Rican Housing Works employee who was arrested today. “I am happy to go to jail if that’s what it takes for federal officials to wake up.” Guaylupo and others were released this afternoon and are available to speak to the press.

Since 2006, AIDS services and treatment in Puerto Rico have been crippled by mismanagement and fraud.

· Audit after audit by the federal government of millions in U.S. tax dollars has documented Puerto Rico's failure to provide basic care to people with HIV/AIDS.

· In December, the FBI raided four San Juan Health Department offices, freezing millions of U.S. Ryan White CARE Act funds intended to help people with HIV/AIDS.

· The Puerto Rican Health Department claims there is no longer an AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) waiting list for medications, but advocates have documented hundreds of people who are still waiting to receive medications on which their lives depend.

At a press conference preceding the traffic-stopping protest, activists demanded immediate federal control of AIDS funding in Puerto Rico in order to get medical care and HIV prevention to those in need. U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Michael Leavitt has the power to instruct the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), the division of HHS that oversees HIV/AIDS in all U.S. states and territories, to take over the dispersal of millions in Ryan White CARE Act funds in Puerto Rico. HRSA has taken such action in U.S cities such as Washington, D.C, Baltimore and Orlando. So far HRSA has refused to get involved in Puerto Rico.

Activists also want an independent authority to investigate the mismanagement of Puerto Rican AIDS dollars and a plan to end it and immediate action to provide HIV prevention tools to IV drug users, who account for the majority of new infections in Puerto Rico.

Housing Works, UDCAS New York, CitiWide Harm Reduction, Harm Reduction Coalition, New York City AIDS Housing Network, Gay Men’s Health Crisis, Washington Heights CORNER Project and ACT UP Philly all endorsed the protest and press conference.

Today’s action in New York was only one of various efforts to put pressure on the federal government. On Tuesday, November 13 Housing Works, the Latino Commission on AIDS, the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project, UDCAS NY and UDCAS Puerto Rico collaborated on a phone zap targeting Puerto Rican Gov. Aníbal Acevedo Vilá and San Juan City Mayor, Jorge Santini Padilla.

More than 30,000 people in Puerto Rico have HIV/AIDS, and more than 19,000 Puerto Ricans have died from AIDS-related causes.

To learn more, visit The New York Times and the Housing Works AIDS Issues Update for in-depth articles about the HIV/AIDS crisis in Puerto Rico.

HOUSING WORKS is dedicated to fighting the twin crises of HIV/AIDS and homelessness. We are the largest grassroots AIDS organization in the U.S. and the largest minority-controlled AIDS organization in the U.S. We provide housing, medical care, job training, case management, HIV prevention, counseling and testing, and other services to low-income and homeless New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS.



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