Thirty years into the epidemic, the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday launched the first-ever congressional HIV/AIDS caucus.

According to the National Minority AIDS Council, “the Caucus will examine methods by which the United States can maintain global leadership in the response to this 30-year epidemic.”

Given the “estimated 56,000 new HIV infections each year,” the Minority AIDS Council said the HIV/AIDS caucus will monitor the implementation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy and seek financing for HIV/AIDS programs.

Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., founding co-chair of the HIV/AIDS caucus said in a written statement: “The impact of HIV/AIDS on African Americans in the United States is extremely alarming. While the number of new diagnoses for virtually every segment of the population is declining, it is rapidly increasing for African Americans.”

Florida’s Bureau of HIV/AIDS reported that through 2010, the total number of people living with HIV and AIDS in the state increased to about 98,000. The report also shows that HIV incidence was by far highest among black men who have sex with men. The state Department of Health defines HIV incidence as the “number or proportion of new HIV infections within a specific population during a defined time period”

Housing Works — an organization that addresses the dual crises of homelessness and AIDS — said the HIV/AIDS caucus “could be groundbreaking—if members commit to pushing forward and passing HIV/AIDS-related legislation.”

“The caucus’ launch in Washington, D.C., however, included no specific legislative objectives,” Hosing Works added. ”And no caucus members mentioned the country’s most pressing HIV/AIDS issue—the growing number of people who cannot access HIV-related medication through the country’s AIDS Drug Assistance Programs.”

Florida’s Bureau of HIV/AIDS data shows that as of Sept. 9 at least 4,100 people were on the Sunshine State’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program waiting list. Miami-Dade County had 1,055 people on the waiting list; Broward County had 673. Hillsborough, Orange, and Palm Beach counties each had over 300 citizens waiting.

The National Alliance of States and Territorial AIDS Directors’ latest ADAP Watch (.pdf) indicates that, as of last week, at least 9,000 people in 11 states were on a waiting list.

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