Many people who witnessed the early days of HIV/AIDS will never forget Ryan White, a young boy from Indiana who was diagnosed with AIDS and who brought much-needed attention to AIDS-related discrimination when he fought for the right to attend school. Twenty-five years after his death, Ryan White’s legacy lives on in the form of a comprehensive federal health program that bears his name.
Twenty-five years ago, the Ryan White Comprehensive AIDS Resources Emergency (CARE) Act (P.L. 101–381) funded the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, which is a federal program that provides services to low-income individuals living with HIV. In recognition of the 25th anniversary of the landmark law, the Health Resources and Services Administration’s (HRSA) HIV/AIDS Bureau (HAB) is celebrating with the anniversary theme of “Moving Forward with CARE: Building on 25 Years of Passion, Purpose, and Excellence.”
Ryan White was a young man from Indiana who was diagnosed with AIDS at age 13 following a blood transfusion. Ryan and his mother, Jeanne White Ginder, fought to allow him to attend school and became international figures in the fight against AIDS-related discrimination. Ryan died at age 18 on April 8, 1990.
Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program
Just months after Ryan died, Congress, with bipartisan support, passed the Ryan White CARE Act, which was signed into law by President Bush on August 18, 1990. The Act provided for the creation of the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, which continues working to this day with various city and state governments and local, community-based organizations to provide a treatment system that is coordinated and comprehensive. The Act, which is now known as the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Treatment Extension Act of 2009 (P.L. 111-87), has been amended and reauthorized four times, the last time in 2009.
The program has provided service to more than 500,000 low-income individuals who lack sufficient health care coverage or financial resources to help manage their disease. In 2015, the program was funded at $2.32 billion.
Over the past 25 years, 81 percent of the clients of the program are “retained in care,” meaning that they receive health care, with more than 78 percent of those being virally suppressed, which means that they have very low levels of the HIV in their bodies. The key treatment of HIV is viral suppression because it allows people to live healthier, longer lives and reduces the transmission rates.
HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell stated, “Over the last quarter century, the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program has contributed to remarkable progress for people living with HIV/AIDS.” Burwell further stated, “What was once a deadly disease, HIV/AIDS is now a manageable chronic condition because of access to high quality health care and appropriate treatment. Although we have more work to do, particularly in reaching the populations most at risk and disproportionately affected by HIV, we are committed to realizing the President’s vision of an AIDS-free generation.”
Updated National HIV/AIDS Strategy
The White House, citing the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program as a critical source for HIV care and treatment, released the National HIV/AIDS Strategy: Updated to 2020. The program, which is administered by the HRSA, will focus on reducing new HIV infections while increasing access to care and improving health outcomes. It will also work toward reducing health inequities and HIV-related disparities while creating a national coordinated response.
President Obama issued a statement celebrating the CARE Act’s anniversary while detailing the national HIV/AIDS strategy going forward. He said, “By providing critical comprehensive care to so many Americans living with HIV, the Ryan White Program continues to be a cornerstone of our strategy to address HIV across America. It is part of our collective effort to ensure that every American has unfettered access to high-quality care—free from stigma and discrimination—and it helps us inch closer to a day when nobody has to know the pain caused by this devastating disease.”