In a conference room in South Seattle, Jesse Chips, the administrator for the Seattle HIV/AIDS Planning Council, facilitated the first meeting of the Prevention Prioritization Subcommittee.
The mood in the room was relaxed. The goal of the group was high: to determine what to do with $3.4 million in federal, state and local funds allocated for HIV/AIDS prevention in King County.
Addressing those present, Chips said, "You're here to review the data and use the data to help inform your decisions."
The data follows:
* The first case of AIDS reported in King County occurred in 1982, two years after it appeared nationally. By 1989, more than 1,000 people had died of AIDS in King County, and as of last year 2,956 King County residents have died of AIDS.
* Since 1991, new diagnoses of HIV have been steadily decreasing. Annual deaths from the virus have been declining since 1994.
* Currently 5,658 people are living with HIV in King County, 56 percent of them are living with AIDS.
* Based on data from Public Health-Seattle & King County the most at-risk population for HIV/AIDS is "men who have sex with men," or MSM. Of the current cases of HIV in King County, 70 percent are MSMs. The vast majority of cases are also among white people. Trends indicate that new cases among heterosexuals and African-Americans are increasing.
The Seattle HIV/AIDS Planning Council was formed in 1993 as a volunteer body to determine how to spend funding for prevention and care. Members of the council are nominated to fill specific representational spots and are appointed by the King County executive. Subcommittees consist of planning council members, experts, community leaders and consumers of HIV/AIDS services.
The Prevention Prioritization Subcommittee's first meeting was held Jan. 7 at the 2100 Building in South Seattle. Decisions are not formally voted on unless necessary, and consensus decision-making is preferred.
"To the extent we can, we will not vote," Chips told the group during their first meeting.
The beginning of the meeting resembled a classroom brainstorming session. Thoughts were shared concerning past priorities and written in bright colors on posters in the front of the room.
"There are a lot of populations that seem to be missed or ignored," one member said.
Another noted he hopes for more "in-your-face intervention."
Committee members shared a concern that the data concentrated too much on what happened in the past and does not address current trends.
Twenty-eight people were present, including the 22 subcommittee members and six community members.
At one point during the four-hour meeting the room was divided into four groups, each assigned with the task of developing rules of conduct for further meetings.
When one group stressed the necessity to respect everyone's opinions, Chips asked the room, "Can everyone live with that?"
"No!" was the response of the room, quickly followed by laughter.
By the end of the nine weeks, the subcommittee will have developed a prevention prioritization plan that allocates funds to specific at-risk populations. In 2004 the subcommittee categorized the at-risk populations into 10 categories. HIV positive people and white MSMs, 25 and older topped the list.
Although 70 percent of HIV/AIDS cases occur among white MSMs, critics say that funding was not being proportionately supplied to all at-risk groups.
Members of the public attending the meeting also offered criticism.
Dennis Saxman said he regularly attends HIV/AIDS Planning Council meetings. He acknowledged experts drove the process, but he said he "would like to see more members of the community here.
"People living with HIV/AIDS have a very different viewpoint," he said.
Chips acknowledged that the subcommittee has limits.
"There was not enough money to save everyone," she said, "so we have to make tough decisions."
After the meeting Bill Hall, a subcommittee member representing the Native American community, expressed a positive impression of the gathering.
He said the meeting taught him that he took a lot of things for granted.
"I just assumed everyone else had the same concept as I had," he said. "I thought for our first meeting it went really well."