High unemployment and the growing ranks of the uninsured have left a program that provides free medication to the state's HIV/AIDS patients struggling to meet demand.
For the first time in nearly 15 years, there is a waiting list for the Florida Department of Health's AIDS Drug Assistance Program, a benefit program of last resort for those who have contracted the virus and can't afford the pricey retro-viral medication. Of the roughly 2,000 people on the waiting list, 186 are from Northeast Florida, according to Department of Health records.
The surge in need has been sparked by patients who lost their jobs and the prescription coverage for the drugs, which can cost upward of $10,000 a year - at the state's reduced rate - per patient. The waiting list has left some advocates for AIDS patients concerned that the lack of funding could become an ongoing problem.
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"Until April of this year, we have always been able to provide services uninterrupted to someone HIV positive and qualified," said Tom Liberti, chief of the Florida Department of Health's bureau of HIV/AIDS. "When the recession began, we could see this perfect storm developing, where demand for services increased and federal and state resources did not."
While more money has gone into testing and prevention, the funds set aside for treatment of those who already have HIV and AIDS have been dropping, Liberti said. Some increases in federal Ryan White Act money dedicated to AIDS treatment should fill the gaps by next April.
Though testing has increased and new infections are slowly dropping, Florida still ranks in the top three for HIV infection rates. Duval County nears the top of the state's numbers, said Max Wilson, the region's AIDS prevention coordinator for the Florida Department of Health.
"The good news is, we've placed a lot of emphasis on slowing infections among African-American women, and we're starting to see those numbers go down," Wilson said. "The bad news is, we cannot say the same for men who have sex with men."
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