States Cut HIV Programs As Studies Show Increased Effectiveness Of Drugs In Controlling Virus

States are tightening the budgets, and HIV patients are paying the highest price. States such as Illinois and Florida have limited access to support programs by lowering the income eligibility, Georgia cut $100,000 from its state support, and Texas may not provide the $19.2 million necessary to serve 3,000 anticipated new clients. As a result of these cuts and no additional funding to the federal AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), well over 8,300 patients are now on waiting lists (PDF). This is a record number of HIV patients not able to access the medication they need. It is likely there are even more, considering not every state even has a waiting list.

These cuts come in spite of a new study shows that starting medication immediately helps control the spread of the virus. Individuals who start antiretrovirals (ARVs) upon diagnosis (as opposed to waiting for symptoms to present) reduce their risk of infection by 96 percent. Though ARVs have long-term side effects — both health and financial — and may not be the best choice for all patients, this study affirms the CDC’s recommendation two years ago that patients start medications earlier.

The cuts also reflect a misguided public perception that the AIDS epidemic is under control. In 2009, only 6 percent believed HIV/AIDS was the most urgent health problem facing the nation. The same poll showed that the public still has many misconceptions and stigma about HIV patients. For example, only 44 percent said they’d be comfortable with a coworker who has HIV/AID, and 51 percent said they’d be uncomfortable having their food prepared by someone who is HIV positive. Worse yet, 34 percent still think they could get HIV via a shared drinking glass, toilet seat, or swimming pool and 27 percent think there is already a cure.

This is especially devastating news for men who have sex with men (MSM), who continue to be disproportionately impacted by the virus. The rate for young black MSM is disturbingly even higher. As the LGBT community continues to fight for equality, many are still fighting for their lives. With public awareness still so low and the impact of the disease still so high, one wonders what these legislators think is a better use of the funds that those 8,300+ individuals need to survive.