Seven people — three women and four men — thought it was necessary to remove all their clothing and stand before cameras and strangers in U.S. House Speaker John Boehner's office Tuesday to bring attention to potential cuts to HIV/AIDS funding and other federal programs.
They obviously thought their radical actions were needed to show Boehner and other politicians that when budgets are sliced, people are hurt.
Although John Moses, HIV outreach specialist at the Lexington-Fayette County Health Department, wouldn't have stripped to make a point, he does understand why drastic measures can have positive results.
He said similar actions were taken in the 1980s to shine light on the need for HIV/AIDS testing and research, which has since prolonged tens of thousands of lives.
Obviously, the protesters from ACT UP, Housing Works and the Student Global AIDS Campaign, three of whom were arrested, think we have forgotten how devastating AIDS has been and could be again with less federal funding for health services and medication for patients.
"I don't think that we the public are forgetting that," Moses said. "Politics is driving these budget cuts, and that is the nature of government, unfortunately."
According to the non-profit advocacy group AIDS Institute, $538 million in cuts to HIV/AIDS funding are scheduled to occur Jan. 2 unless Congress and President Barack Obama find another solution. The scheduled cuts are a part of the sequestration, or automatic across-the-board cuts, of more than $1 trillion that Congress agreed to during the last debt-ceiling negotiations.
"If the cuts go into effect, Medicaid will be cut drastically, and that means HIV clients who rely on medicines and services (paid through Medicaid) will have to do without," Moses said.
But the cuts won't stop with HIV patients.
"When it comes to budgets and funding, HIV is no different than any other disease," he said. "People are going to suffer whether it is breast cancer, diabetes or HIV."
In the 2011 fiscal year, about 51 percent of those living with HIV received state and federal Medicaid funds, according to a study released last year by the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.
"Medicaid is estimated to be the single largest source of coverage for people with HIV in the U.S., and to account for more than half of all spending in HIV care by the federal government," the report summarized.
I've lived through the terror that AIDS wrought 30 years ago. I remember the fear, the desperation, the shame, the deaths. We are not at a point where we can chance slipping back into that scenario.
Moses, who has been in his position since July, was surprised by the number of older and younger people who still think AIDS is a gay disease.
"The number one thing we need to do is educate our young people about HIV and encourage testing for everyone," he said. "I am a firm believer that abstinence-only education is not working."
Because of advances, testing has been reduced to swabbing the inner mouth and waiting less than 20 minutes for results. All testing is as anonymous as a person wants it to be.
On Saturday, as a part of Lexington's celebration of "World AIDS Day 2012: Reflect. Remember. Celebrate," Moses said, free testing will be available at the Lexington Public Library, 140 East Main Street, from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Similar tests are available in take-home kits, but those cost between $50 and $100.
From 3:30 to 4:30 p.m., a commemoration in the library's theater will offer the public an opportunity to show support for friends, family or strangers who are living with the disease or who have died from it. There will be prayer, songs, dignitaries and a talk by a woman who is living with HIV.
During the event, those in attendance will be given small red pieces of paper on which they can write good wishes or the names of people who have died with AIDS. Those pieces will be attached to a white foam board to form a red ribbon, the symbol of AIDS awareness.
"World AIDS Day is an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV and AIDS," Moses said.
This is not the time to put money before people's lives. It is the time, instead, to remember how far we have come in offering a higher quality of life to those fighting against HIV/AIDS.