New Brunswick's Hyacinth AIDS Foundation is one of many HIV/AIDS treatment organizations to benefit from a new wave of state funding.
Gov. Chris Christie and Health Commissioner Mary O'Dowd held a press conference Tuesday morning at the Hyacinth AIDS Foundation, located on George Street, to announce $19.5 million in state funding will benefit 54 HIV/AIDS treatment organizations in New Jersey.
According to a press release from the governor's office, $11.2 million will be used specifically for HIV counseling, testing and education, while the other $8.3 million is slated for medical care and social services.
O'Dowd said the funding follows an additional $8 million in federal funding that was made available earlier this year to New Jersey for AIDS and HIV treatment.
More than 36,000 New Jersey residents liver with HIV/AIDS, O'Dowd said.
Of those people living with HIV/AIDS, 7,000 of those low-income residents receive medications through a state drug distribution program, she said.
During the press conference, Christie stressed that progress in treatment and support of people living with HIV/AIDS has turned it from a death sentence to a "chronic disease."
However, the stigma of an HIV/AIDS diagnosis still persists, which deters people from being tested, he said.
"It only becomes that (a chronic disease) if you're treating it," he said.
140 HIV/AIDS testing centers exist in New Jersey, Christie said.
The Hyacinth AIDS Foundation - the largest and oldest HIV/AIDS treatment organization in the state, according to Christie's office - received $2.1 million of the grant money, the largest allotment to be made available through the new wave of funding, Christie said.
Organizations like the Hyacinth Aids Foundation "(provide) a really vital home for people who have been dealt a devastating blow," he said.
Kathy Ahearn-O'Brien, Executive Director of the Hyacinth AIDS Foundation, said the support of the state has helped further HIV/AIDS treatment, but more work needs to be done.
"Treatment advances have provided the opportunity to see the end of AIDS in our lifetime," she said in a prepared statement. "But this can be achieved only if we continue the very strong relationships that exist between medical providers and community based organizations."
Christie said the decision to make the money available is "in concert" with other public health initiatives of his administration, including treatment instead of jail time for first-time non-violent drug offenders, a $3.5 million increase in funding for cancer screenings and a $1 billion influx of funding for hospitals throughout the state.
"I believe every life is precious," he said, when asked what motivated the decision to make the funding available.
Christie said that while holding a position of power, he is able to put his "beliefs and principals into action."
"I'm attempting to lead by example," he said.
For more information on the Hyacinth AIDS Foundation, visit hyacinth.org.