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Eleventh Hour Reprieve for NC AIDS Treatment Funding

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RALEIGH — A funding shortfall could mean the differencebetween life and death forsome 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 ResourcesDepartment approved a stopgap funding measure which will take the programthrough January 6th.The agency came up with $500,000 to continue funding the AIDS DrugAssistance Program.

It's welcome news considering the money was expected to runout at theend of the year. But a lot of people feel like the emergency funding issimply a bandaid.

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

Listen toauorReal Audiofile."I don't think I'd be here today without the program. Thedrugs 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 thatwithoutthe money to pay for drugs, patients will go downhill. The agencyhas 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 whetherthey can receive the medication or not, again we're talking about people'slives."

Local health care professionals, like Gibbie Harris of the Wake CountyHealth Department, are very concerned because once patientsare off of these drugs for even a short period of time they become resistantto treatment.

Listen toauor Real Audiofile."If we have all of these folks that are on drugs and we takethem off, we're just looking at massive resistance to these drugs in thoseclients 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 HealthDepartment.

Listen toauor Real Audiofile."Usually what we're seeing is folks who do not have theresources, whether it's health insurance or salary, that will cover thecostof 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 theseclients, 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.

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