Illustration by Muriel Gordon

Thirty years ago this Sunday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported for the first time the case of five gay men in Los Angeles who contracted what was then interpreted as a rare form of pneumonia.

Little did anyone know that this “pneumonia” would turn into a global pandemic that would kill nearly 30 million people since its initial discovery.

We have made significant global progress since 1981 in our steps to acknowledge the existence of AIDS both culturally and medically. But today these advances are being threatened. Due to the economic recession, many states have cut funding from AIDS-related programs or tightened eligibility requirements for them, making it more difficult for AIDS patients to receive financial assistance for medication.

A record number of U.S. citizens — more than 8,300 in 13 states — are on waiting lists for antiretrovirals and other drugs used to treat HIV and AIDS, their side effects, and resulting mental health conditions.

In addition, Illinois has made it harder for its residents to qualify for a program that helps HIV patients pay for their medications. On July 1, the income limit for eligibility will go from $54,450 per person to $32,670, which could limit the accessibility of treatment for more than 100 people per year who would no longer qualify for assistance. Florida is also considering similar measures, as officials there may soon decide to cut the eligibility threshold in half to $21,780 or less in income. And Georgia has already cut $100,000 from its AIDS drug assistance program (ADAP), which serves 4,300 people.

These measures are devastating for people who have AIDS, as more and more people today are turning to ADAPs to help them pay for life-prolonging medications after the economic recession put millions of people out of work and cut their health insurance coverage. The cruel irony, however, is that because of this financial downturn, states are cutting funds from these programs, thereby significantly curtailing access to government aid.

Contrary to popular misconceptions, the number of people living with HIV is actually on the rise. While part of the reason for this is that more people are able to live longer with AIDS, the fact is that for every person who starts treatment, two others become infected. In San Francisco alone, a city of roughly 800,000 residents, there are two new HIV infections every day. More than one million people live with AIDS in the United States, and that number is 33 million worldwide as of the end of 2009.

It would be morally unjust and arguably discriminatory to continue making drastic cuts to programs that benefit AIDS patients, considering that more than 60 percent of American males living with AIDS became infected with HIV through male-to-male sexual contact and over 40 percent of those living with an AIDS diagnosis are African American, according to figures from 2008.

There are also long-term financial repercussions that could only get worse if people with AIDS don’t have access to medical resources. Yes, some states are saving money by making cuts to social welfare programs like these, but at what cost? According to a recent United Nations report, global AIDS costs could reach $35 billion by 2031, an astounding figure that U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called “wholly unsustainable.”

How much worse will that figure be if programs that help people with AIDS get psychological and physical treatment continue to get decreased funding or are axed altogether? This will only lead to more people dying because they cannot afford paying for life-prolonging medications out-of-pocket.

Yes, our economy is in a rut — that fact is inescapable, as we are privy to it any time we open a newspaper or tune into CNN. But slashing funds for AIDS patients to get already-existing medications that can help them live with the disease is like a twisted version of dangling a carrot in front of a horse’s nose. Although states’ fiscal situations may be dire, these cuts to AIDS patients could literally be a matter of life or death.