Local News

Eleventh Hour Reprieve for NC AIDS Treatment Funding

Posted December 22, 1997 12:00 a.m. EST

— A funding shortfall could mean the difference between life and death for some AIDS patients in our state. A state program which assists people with the cost of the expensive medicine has run dry. Emergency funding has been approved, but as WRAL's Amanda Lamb explains, it's not enough to keep the program going for long.

Just before noon Monday, the State Health and Human Resources Department approved a stopgap funding measure which will take the program through January 6th. The agency came up with $500,000 to continue funding the AIDS Drug Assistance Program.

It's welcome news considering the money was expected to run out at the end of the year. But a lot of people feel like the emergency funding is simply a bandaid.

Mike Buono is one of the many people who doesn't want to see the state AIDS Drug Assistance Program vanish. He says he can't afford the drugs himself and credits the program with turning his health around.

Listen toauorReal Audio file. "I don't think I'd be here today without the program. The drugs turned me around. I was going downhill quickly." Activists say it's the difference between life and death. Bill Brent, director of the AIDS Service Agency, says he's afraid that without the money to pay for drugs, patients will go downhill. The agency has about 100 clients who are enrolled in the program.

Listen toauor Real Audiofile. "It's absolutely a nightmare, they don't know from one day to the next whether they can receive the medication or not, again we're talking about people's lives."

Local health care professionals, like Gibbie Harris of the Wake County Health Department, are very concerned because once patients are off of these drugs for even a short period of time they become resistant to treatment.

Listen toauor Real Audiofile. "If we have all of these folks that are on drugs and we take them off, we're just looking at massive resistance to these drugs in those clients who have been on them in the past."

Harris says about 650 people are on the Drug Assistance Program statewide. 142 of those patients are in the care of the Wake County Health Department.

Listen toauor Real Audiofile. "Usually what we're seeing is folks who do not have the resources, whether it's health insurance or salary, that will cover the cost of these medications." Wake County health officials are very concerned about where the money is going to come from for medication if the program shuts down. "We don't have the resources to absorb medication for these clients, We're talking thousands of dollars." On January sixth the Department of Health and Human Services will begin working on a funding plan to get the program through the end of the fiscal year in April. It's estimated more than one million dollars is still needed to keep the patients on the medication.