Thursday, October 21, 2010

AIDS Activists Protest Stalled Leadership on ADAP Crisis

AIDS Activists Protest Stalled Leadership on ADAP Crisis

This week, HIV/AIDS advocates from across the country ascended on Washington, DC to express their dissatisfaction with President Obama, Senate Majority Leader Reid and House Speaker Pelosi and their failure to solve the crisis facing the AIDS Drug Assistance Programs in nine states. With ADAP waiting lists exploding to nearly 3,500 people living with HIV/AIDS as the backdrop, events included a press conference at the National Press Club, and demonstrations in front of the White House and a Victory Fund event honoring Pelosi. The AIDS Healthcare Foundation ("AHF"), Community Access National Network ("CANN"), Campaign to End AIDS ("C2EA"), Housing Works and aaa+ organized the events. But the real heroes of the week were Jeffrey Voyles, Steven Aubrey Dimmick, Ricky Lanza and Larry Cook, who each shared their personal experience at the community level and how it is impacting their lives.

Leading up to the events this week, however, President Obama was dogged by protestors in Philadelphia and New York City while campaigning for embattled Democrats. ACT UP led the protest in Philadelphia, calling attention to the 138 people on wait lists for housing in Philadelphia, as well as the 3,441 people on wait lists for medicine across the United States. In NYC, activists yelled slogans and held signs aloft reading "Obama broken promises KILL." At both events, President Obama almost seemed annoyed that the demonstrations were happening, repeatedly saying that funding for AIDS programs had gone up under his leadership.

"As a person with AIDS, I'm always waiting for the other shoe to drop," said ACT UP member Duane Kaufman. "If activists hadn't fought so we could have medicine, I wouldn't be alive today. And if I didn't have housing, I wouldn't be able to take my medicine every day. I'm afraid of losing my housing and losing access to medicine if politicians don't keep their promises" (ACT UP Philadelphia press release, 09/20).

Not even HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was sparred during her speech at the US Conference on AIDS. Chants of "don't let us down, don't let us die", echoed through the lunch plenary as activists and people living with HIV from Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina, and other Southern states, including members and staff from AIDS Action in Mississippi, the Campaign To End AIDS, Housing Works, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, N.E.E.D. Inc., and others joined in. CLICK HERE to watch the video.

On September 23rd, CANN and aaa+ were joined by the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust to host yet another congressional briefing on the ADAP crisis. Speakers included Sen. Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Representative Donna Christensen (D-V.I.), Doctor Todd Wills, who is an Associate Professor of Internal Medicine, Division of Infectious Disease and International Medicine at the University Of South Florida College Of Medicine, Ann Lefert from the National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors ("NASTAD"), Arch Bishop Joyce Turner Keller from Aspirations in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Amy Bell May, who was on South Carolina's ADAP waiting list up until recently. The congressional briefing received excellent press in stories by CQ HEALTHBEAT NEWS and Political Brief.

Earlier that week, ADAP was also front and center during the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's annual conference in Washington, DC. Writing for the DC Examiner, Candace Y.A. Montague's "AIDS strategy answers few questions at Congressional Black Caucus" discussed some of the anger behind the crisis.

Efforts remain underway to persuade Congress to find the necessary funding to eliminate the ADAP waiting lists, especially since the $25 million reallocated by the Obama Administration proved to be insufficient. In the U.S. House of Representatives, Congressman Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.) took to the House floor to express his support for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, and followed with a letter urging Democratic Leadership to address the ADAP funding crisis. Unfortunately, Hastings only requested $25 million in emergency supplemental funding - an amount far short of the missing $101 million necessary.

In the meantime in the U.S. Senate, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) endorsed S.3401, "The ACCESS ADAP Act," as a cosponsor. Sen. Grassley sent a "Dear Colleague" letter with Senators Tom Coburn (R-Okla.), Richard Burr (R-N.C.), Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) and George LeMieux (R-Fla.) which read, in part, "While the Administration recently provided $25 million to address this growing problem, we remain concerned that this amount will not adequately cover all of the cost of providing treatment to the growing list of individuals and fully address ADAP needs through the end of Fiscal Year 2010. The ACCESS ADAP Act transfers $126 million of unobligated discretionary stimulus dollars to the Secretary of Health and Human Services to reduce the ADAP waiting lists and address the other cost-containment measures State ADAPs have taken."

Unfortunately, partisanship outflanked policy as Congress adjourned before doing anything about the ADAP crisis. It seems that Members of Congress are more concerned with saving their own jobs rather than finding the missing $101 million that would end the wait and provide life-saving medications to the nearly 3,500 people living with HIV/AIDS in nine states.

The ADAP Advocacy Association will continue to monitor the crisis. Thanks for your ongoing interest and support!

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