Tallahassee – According to data compiled by Florida Health, the state has the highest number of new HIV infections across the country, as approximately more that 6,000 new cases were diagnosed during 2015.

There were 6,147 people diagnosed with HIV in Florida in 2014 and there were 5,377 infections reported in 2013. These numbers make the state the lead in new HIV cases for 3 years in a row.

Now, Florida health policies are being criticized as state lawmakers are questioning if the decision made by Governor Rick Scott and the state’s top health officer, Dr. John Armstrong to cut healthcare funding has led to a sicker population in the state.

Dr. John Armstrong, Florida’s surgeon general. Photo: The Miami Herald/Steve Cannon/AP
Dr. John Armstrong, Florida’s surgeon general. Photo: The Miami Herald/Steve Cannon/AP

Over the past four years, Scott and Armstrong have cut personnel in the Department of Health, shrinking the size of the county health departments. Legislators are now asking whether the spending has something to do with the fact that HIV infections have risen each year since 2012, as other states have seen a decline.

Armstrong opposed the critical comments saying Florida is spending a record $34 million on HIV and AIDS prevention this year, thanks to a federal grant and that Staff reductions did not impact the surveillance, education, prevention, counseling, testing, care and treatment of HIV/AIDS patients. However, he didn’t dispute the fact that infections have been on the rise.

Armstrong’s comments did not cease the criticism toward his policies. David Poole, director of legislative affairs for the AIDS Health Care Foundation –which offers treatment and prevention throughout Florida and who worked in the Department of Health’s HIV program for 12 years– said staff reductions have hampered prevention, and that has led to a rise in cases. “Without leadership at the head of the agency speaking about this, it creates a hurdle,” Poole said.

“It’s indicative of the neglect of this administration across the board in social services. We have a rise in AIDS and we have a reduction in public health spending. We’re now cutting just to be cutting,” Senator Oscar Braynon, D-Miami Gardens said.

Armstrong is due to face a Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday. The state’s top health officer will be under investigation about rising HIV rates and budget cuts in the state and will have to defend his case in an effort to keep his job.

Six Republicans and three Democrats are part of the pannel. All three Democrats have been critical of Armstrong’s position and one Republican has doubts. Among the members of the Senate Health Policy Committee that will scrutinize Armstrong’s record starting Tuesday will be the Senator Oscar Braynon.

Source: The Miami Herald