August 24, 2006
AIDS service organizations and advocacy groups in South Carolina are warning legislators that state funding for HIV/AIDS is not keeping up with the spread of the disease. The advocates plan to invite members of the General Assembly to a meeting to hear data and reports on the negative impact HIV/AIDS is having on the state's people and economy. "No change will be seen until our legislators are part of this solution-building," said Bambi Gaddist, executive director of the S.C. HIV/AIDS Action Council, which is hosting the session this month.
Around 14,000 South Carolinians are living with HIV/AIDS. The disease disproportionately affects those groups with the highest rates of unemployment and without health insurance: African Americans, the poor, and people who live in rural areas.
According to advocates, the state's AIDS Drug Assistance Program is running out of money. A shortfall of $3 million has forced ADAP administrators to start a waiting list for new applicants; 144 people are now on the list, up from 55 people in mid-July. This year, South Carolina covered less than 4 percent of the $14.25 million budget of the state and federally funded program.
Stigma and ignorance have contributed to inaction on the part of many lawmakers and voters, advocates argue. "Too many legislators don't feel they have enough at stake to care," said Rep. Joe Neal (D-Richland). It is in the state's interest to better fund HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment initiatives, he said.
Unchecked, HIV/AIDS could economically drain hospitals in South Carolina, especially in rural areas, said Dr. Kent Stock, who has researched the economic impact of the disease. His preliminary analysis of 2002 data shows the state spent $73 million on HIV-related hospitalization charges for 1,915 patients with an average per-visit cost of $23,870. That compares to ADAP's per-patient cost of $10,500 a year to provide medicines to keep people healthy.