AIDS Patients Urge Obama to ‘Send Money South’

Region Is Highest in Aids-Related Death, but Last in Funding, Group Says

When Robin Webb lived in New York City, he was treated by HIV specialists and had access to counseling and nutritional programs. Now he lives in Mississippi, one of several mostly rural states across the South with a dearth of resources for HIV and AIDS patients, according to an Associated Press feature early this year.

“Here, there’s no support group, no case management. There’s no daily reinforcement,” said Webb, 52, who has been HIV-positive for two decades.

Health care providers cite a need for more federal and state funding for outreach and drug assistance programs, as well as transportation for patients who have to travel from small towns to get care.

 

That’s the message which was delivered to White House aides who toured rural regions of the South in December and January to hear local voices make bold recommendations on AIDS policies.

Jeffrey S. Crowley, director of the White House’s Office of National AIDS Policy, told the Associated Press that his forums, one held in Fort Lauderdale on December 20, 2009, addressed two realities of the national epidemic—the significant number of cases in the South, and how the disease disproportionately affects minorities.

The spread of the disease in the South has been attributed to numerous factors, including poverty and a social stigma that discourages many from getting tested or seeking treatment.

Patrick Packer, executive director of the Southern AIDS Coalition and a moderator for the Mississippi discussion, raised the question: “Why is it that the South is not getting its fair share of federal money based on the epidemic?”

The South leads the nation in the percentage of AIDS-related deaths. Yet, the region ranks last when it comes to overall federal dollars spent on an HIV-infected person at $6,565 a year, according to the coalition.

When President Barack Obama signed the $2.2 billion Ryan White HIV/AIDS extension act, which continued funding for rural areas, it placed the South second in federal money behind the northern region. Activists said it’s still not enough to keep pace with the new cases.

Debbie Konkle-Parker, a nurse practitioner in Jackson, told the AP that the act added federal money to the South, but didn’t put rural areas on the same level as big cities.

“The inequities were pretty huge,” she said. “People were spending (Ryan White) money in New York City to do journal writing conferences, and in Mississippi, we couldn’t even get people to the clinics.”

Konkle-Parker said Mississippi has about eight public clinics to treat the majority of the 9,000 HIV patients in the state.

The current economic crunch has exacerbated the situation. Some states, like Kentucky, have cut funding for HIV/AIDS programs. The state had been contributing $250,000 a year prior to 2007, but now almost no state money is set aside for the AIDS Drug Assistance program, said Sigga Jagne, a program manager for the Kentucky Department of Health. The same issue has evolved as a dilemma in Arkansas, Tennessee, andFlorida as well, with hundreds of patients on waiting lists for ADAP.

Activists are troubled that added funding cuts are only making the waiting lists larger and caused even more gaps in treatment.

“We’re already disproportionately impacted by poverty and high rates of umemployment. It’s important for people who are HIV positive to be provided with life-sustaining drugs,” Jagne said.

 


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