July 1, 2003
Health officials and activists said reasons for the spike in new HIV cases are numerous, but all suggest that efforts to curb the disease are lagging. People again are engaging in risky sexual behaviors, abusing drugs or failing to be tested despite symptoms.
At the same time, the state's AIDS Drug Assistance Program has the toughest eligibility requirements in the nation, making it difficult for poor people to get medicines to treat the disease. Under North Carolina's eligibility rules, people who make more than $11,075 a year do not qualify for ADAP. Additionally, the General Assembly this year stipulated the eligibility cap in the budget, eliminating any flexibility to increase it if more federal money came through.
Carmen Hooker Odom, the state's secretary of health and human services, said she is working to eliminate the restrictive language. AIDS activists also are lobbying, and they have enlisted support from the Legislative Black Caucus.
Patrick Lee, an advocate with the N.C. Counsel for Positive Living, said the state's failure to fund ADAP, along with other services, is an ethical breach. He said people have little incentive to be tested for HIV if they cannot get treatment. "We encourage people to get tested, then tell them they have to wait for services," Lee said, noting that many clinics have waiting lists, and case workers are overwhelmed with patients.