North Carolina AIDS Activists Seek Funding
January 6, 2003
A coalition including AIDS activist groups, pharmaceutical companies, case managers and others has formed around a single goal: improving poor peoples access to HIV/AIDS drugs in North Carolina. The N.C. Action Network, a statewide movement, will press its case before the General Assembly this month.Adapted from:
The need for improved access to drugs is growing. Infection rates in North Carolina and across the Southeast have outpaced the rest of the country. North Carolinas AIDS Drug Assistance Program has the tightest eligibility criteria in the nation, granting assistance only to people who make less than $11,075 a year (125 percent of the federal poverty level). AIDS drugs cost more than $10,000 a year. Activists argue that without assistance, poor people with HIV/AIDS must choose between life-saving drugs and basic living expenses.
"Its futile to get tested for HIV if you dont have health insurance," said Patrick Lee, program director with the N.C. Counsel for Positive Living and an organizer of the AIDS Action Network. "If you get tested and you need state support for medications, the message you are getting is that we cant help. Its almost a slap in the face."
For the first three quarters of 2002, there were 1,242 new HIV cases reported in North Carolina, 20 more than for the same period in 2001 and 135 more than in the same time frame in 2000. African Americans, heterosexuals and women were hit particularly hard. Health officials worry that scarcity of drugs, and concomitant episodic use of them, could cause drug-resistant strains of the virus. John Paul Womble, president of the new alliance and head of counseling with the Alliance of AIDS Services-Carolina, said HIV drugs not only save lives, they also guard against risky behavior that can spread the disease. People denied medications are more likely to engage in unprotected sex or share needles.
Last fall, a $3 million critical need grant enabled the state to move 817 people from the waiting list into the program. But now the program has been frozen again, and 200 more people are awaiting services, said Dr. Steve Cline, the states chief epidemiologist. Officials are asking the General Assembly for $13 million to reopen the drug assistance plan and raise the salary cap to $17,720 a year (200 percent of the poverty level).
News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)
01.03.2003; Sarah Avery