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Ryan White Grant helps only 93 on South Carolina HIV/AIDS waiting list
A multimillion dollar federal grant for HIV/AIDS care announced recently is a relief for some South Carolinians who have been waiting for months for life-saving medications. But HIV/AIDS officials want the state to help make sure there is enough medicine for everyonewho is waiting.
The money has helped get 93 people off the AIDS Drug Assistance Program waiting list, which stands at 474 as of May 3. State and additional federal funds will determine how many of those can be enrolled, said Lynda Kettinger, director of STD/HIV division at the state Department of Health and Environmental Control.
South Carolina has by far the longest waiting list in the country. On March 1, only three other states had waiting lists, with 75, 20 and 13 people respectively. At that time, South Carolina had 463.
The more than $25 million in federal money is a renewal of funds the state gets under the Ryan White Care Act to help the uninsured and under-insured.
Although this year's amount is $5 million more than last year's, the extra dollars will go toward restoring services cut from local clinics over the last two years. And the part of the grant set aside for the drug program has decreased by almost $325,000, to just under $13.5 million.
Health officials can't make final decisions on how the money will be spent until they know what the total state and federal grants are, Kettinger said.
The S.C. House has approved a one-time grant of $3 million for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program. The Senate's version is more generous: $3 million annually, plus a one-time amount of $1 million. What gets included in the state budget will be decided in the coming weeks.
"I hope that this body would see the need for these funds and respond appropriately," said Rep. Joe Neal, D-Richland, who has led efforts to increase state funding for HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment.
Although the amount being considered is less than what state health officials and the South Carolina HIV/AIDS Care Crisis Task Force asked for, members say they are thankful and optimistic.
"We need $8 million," said Bambi Gaddist, executive director of the South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council and a member of the task force.
The group has already started planning for next year, and will work with hospitals to develop an estimate of costs incurred by people with HIV/AIDS who are uninsured or who use Medicaid or Medicare.
Such costs are among the group's key concerns, along with funding cuts, uncertainty about federal funding from year to year, and increasing HIV infection rates.
"We have in the past relied solely on federal dollars, and clearly, that has not worked," Neal said. "We need to add dollars and they must come from the state. We have no other source."
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