THE BLOG
07/01/2009 02:32 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Budget Crisis Worries HIV-Positive Youth

Originally published on Youthradio.org, the premier source for youth generated news throughout the globe. This article was produced in collaboration with Beyond the Odds, a Web site of personal stories and perspectives from young people living with HIV and AIDS.

By: Arai Buendia

School is out, and like many 14-year-olds in San Francisco, Carina Aguilar is looking forward to summer - going to the movies, playing basketball and traveling to Utah with her family for a kayaking trip.

"I will have a really busy summer," says Aguilar, who wears her dark brown hair in a pony tail and talks in a soft voice.

But the summer would be more fun, she says, if she didn't have to worry about her HIV medication. She gets monthly shipments of meds delivered to her house. Drugs can cost anywhere from $250 to $5000 per month for somebody living with HIV.

State-funded HIV/AIDS programs are among the health and social services that hang in the balance in the coming weeks as California lawmakers try to close the state's $24 billion budget deficit. Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger in May proposed an $80 million cut to the Office of AIDS; the Legislature this month pushed back with $35 million in cuts. Meanwhile, young people are trying to make sense of what it will mean for them and other youth, a population that accounts for about half of all new HIV infections.

Diagnosed at birth, Carina's not sure how she contracted the virus: "I think it was because my mom did not have as much protection, so that's probably how I got it. Otherwise, my stuff got in by breast milk."

Thanks to a constant regime of medications paid for by Medi-Cal, Carina's been able to keep her viral count so low, it barely even shows up through testing.

"If it is undetectable it means that you are really healthy," she says. "Your immune system is healthy, basically your whole body is healthy.

It also means Carina's less infectious than someone with a high viral load. And less burdened by what sets her apart.

"The only time that I am reminded that I have HIV is when I'm drinking my medicine," she says.

Despite her anxiety about state cuts to AIDS programs, Carina's lucky. Her Medi-Cal benefits aren't likely to be affected by the proposed cuts. But 24-year-old Ricardo, who didn't want me to use his last name, can't count on those protections.

"I know I am one of those patients that I have to have medication," he says. "If not my life is at jeopardy."

Ricardo says he's not eligible for California's Medicaid program because of his salary. If his drug costs go up, or if he loses his job as an AIDS outreach worker due to program cuts "my medication would cost more than my rent," he says. "So it would either be my life or be on the streets."

"We've seen what it means for people not to have treatment for a while," says Kevin Bynes, youth services director at the AIDS Project for the East Bay. "We've seen the people get diagnosed one week and then be dead the next. The drugs that are used to manage HIV for many people are the only lifeline."

And the prevention and testing programs that get state funding are often the only way HIV negative young people learn how to stay that way. So while the Governor says California faces a "worst case scenario" with this budget crisis, young people living with HIV/AIDS, or trying to avoid it, are hoping the situation doesn't get even worse.

Related stories produced by Youth Radio: "Her Battle, My Battle, with AIDS", "Latinos and AIDS"

This story comes to you from Public Radio Makers Quest 2.0, an initiative of AIR, the Association of Independents in Radio, Incorporated. This project is made possible with funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Youth Radio/Youth Media International (YMI) is youth-driven converged media production company that delivers the best youth news, culture and undiscovered talent to a cross section of audiences. To read more youth news from around the globe and explore high quality audio and video features, visit Youthradio.org