On Monday, December 20 at 6:00 PM, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) hosted a town hall and public form at the African Heritage Cultural Arts Center calling on U.S. Senator Bill Nelson to immediately address Florida’s AIDS drug crisis which has left nearly 2,400 patients without access to lifesaving AIDS medications.

Town hall attendees included AIDS advocates, patients, healthcare professionals, community leaders and concerned citizens. At the event, AHF previewed its latest television ad, “Save my life,” which had its debut in Miami/Ft Lauderdale beginning on Monday, December 20, including during “Oprah.”

The ad, on SFGN’s back page today, featured the story of 30-year-old Steven Dimmick of Jacksonville, Florida. Mr. Dimmick has been on Florida’s ADAP waiting list since it began in June 2010.

“Though AHF commended Senator Nelson for sending a letter in August asking his Democratic colleagues in the Senate to address the ADAP funding crisis, nearly 1,400 people have been added to Florida’s waiting list since then – and still, no action has been taken,” said Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “This is a national crisis—but Florida has quickly become the state in the most dire need. Presently there are more than, 4,500 people in nine states on ADAP waiting lists—over half of whom are in Florida. Florida currently has the largest ADAP patient waiting list in the country, as well as the highest rate of new HIV infections in the nation. Lives like Steven Dimmick’s are on the line. Senator Nelson must do more to solve this growing life-threatening, public health crisis.”

In response to severe budget shortfalls, the state’s federally funded, state run AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) that pays for lifesaving AIDS drugs for low-income Americans instituted a waiting list on June 1st of this year. That list has grown at a rate of 400 per month and now nearly 2,400 Floridians have been placed on the state’s list awaiting access to potentially lifesaving antiretroviral AIDS medications. According to the Florida Department of Health, the Florida AIDS Drug Assistance Program is $16 million short of being able to serve all of its current clients until April 1, 2011.

In the TV ad, patient Steven Dimmick – who has been on Florida’s AIDS drug wait list since June of this year - says: “I was diagnosed HIV positive seven and a half years ago. The day that I found out I was on a wait list I felt like I was told I had AIDS, you know? I felt like I was told all over again that I’m possibly going to die from something. Not ‘There’s hope.’ Not “There’s a way we can fix this.” Not all the things I was told: to start taking the medicine. Now, it’s the complete opposite. Back to death.”

Nationwide, ADAPs serve more than 165,000 people, accounting for one third of people on AIDS treatment in the U.S. “Although some money is being funneled Florida’s way, ADAP will still require millions of dollars more to accommodate its patient load,” said Michael Kahane, Southern Bureau Chief for AIDS Healthcare Foundation.