North-South Divide Dogs Renewal of AIDS Funding
ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
You're listening to All Things Considered from NPR News. During his State of the Union Address Tuesday night, President Bush called on Congress to reauthorize the Ryan White Care Act. It's the main vehicle for providing drugs and medical care to people with HIV and AIDS in the United States. There are also calls to fix the program so that it will meet the current needs of people with HIV. They now live much longer than when the program was created and they are just as likely to live in rural areas as in cities. NPR's Brenda Wilson has the story.
BRENDA WILSON, reporting:
As President Bush did in 2005 he once again called for additional funding to fight HIV and AIDS, acknowledging that more than a million Americans, more than half of them African Americans, are living with the disease.
President GEORGE W. BUSH: I ask Congress to reform and reauthorize the Ryan White Act and provide new funding to states so we end the waiting list for AIDS medicines in America.
WILSON: He also said that he would work closely with African American churches to deliver rapid tests and to end the stigma of AIDS. His statement reflects a rising concerning over the growing epidemic among African Americans, one where the greatest increases have occurred in Southern rural communities. But the funding gaps, the waiting lists are cropping up across the country according to Julie Scofield of the National Alliance State and Territorial AIDS Directors.
Ms. JULIE SCOFIELD (National Alliance State and Territorial AIDS Directors): Alabama, West Virginia, North Carolina, Nebraska is on the list, Montana is on the list, Idaho is on the list, Rhode Island is facing a crisis, Missouri, Okalahoma, South Dakota, Utah.
WILSON: And the waiting lists, she says, are just a snapshot of the 250,000 people who for one reason or another are not in treatment.
Ms. SCOFIELD: They may come, they may apply, they may see that the programs are constricted in their eligibility, and so they're turned away.
WILSON: Alabama has had the longest and the oldest waiting list. There are 384 people waiting. Out of the 9,000 people with HIV in the state, a little over 1,000 receive assistance. Kathy Hiers is the director of AIDS Alabama, and member of the Southern AIDS Coalition.
Ms. KATHY HIERS (Director, AIDS Alabama): There are more cases in the South. There are more mortalities in the South. And the rates are growing at a faster rate in the South.
WILSON: But the money goes elsewhere, to the big cities. When the law was passed 15 years ago, the epidemic was mostly in cities. So that was where the money went. Hiers says Katrina brought the funding gap glaringly to light.
Ms. HIERS: If a person in New Orleans needs medications, they can provide up to $12,000 a year to help supplement their co-pays and out-of-pocket expense. If you step outside of the New Orleans area into the balance of the state, they can only provide $1,200 a year to supplement medical payments.
WILSON: The solution, she says, is to pool funding under Ryan White and distribute it more fairly. But AIDS directors from metropolitan areas, even in the South, say the Southern AIDS Coalition's analysis is flawed and aggregates state numbers in ways that don't accurately reflect the impact of the epidemic on high prevalence areas. National AIDS directors have offered a proposal that Julie Scofield says would come up with more than $35 million for rural areas and small cities that have emerging epidemics.
Ms. SCOFIELD: We as a nation really have to talk about fully addressing the needs of serving people with HIV/AIDS and get ourselves out of the conversation about taking resources from one place that are utilizing those services to provide care to redirect them to another. The need has expanded, it's greater, and we need to find the resources to meet those needs.
WILSON: When the budget is released next week, the Bush administration is expected to ask for $70 million in additional funding. That could go a long way to solving the problem.
Brenda Wilson, NPR News, Washington.
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