As of today, there were 8,310 people living with HIV/AIDS in the United States on waiting list under the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, according to the National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors. Additionally, there are thousands more who have been adversely impacted by other "cost containment" measures at the state level restricting eligibility (aka, kicked off ADAP). One of the biggest reasons why the ADAP crisis has unfolded over the last two years has been insufficient federal funding, whereby the federal commitment has dropped from 74% of programmatic expenditures in 2005 to 49% in 2010. Sadly, as the lives of thousands of people living with HIV/AIDS hang in the balance, our federal government has funded numerous "pet projects" - including "such programs as Jell-O wrestling at the South Pole, testing shrimp’s exercise ability on a treadmill and a laundry-folding robot, all funded by the National Science Foundation" (Washington Times, 05/26/11).
According to a new Senate report requested by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), over $3 billion was mismanaged by the NSF. That's billion with a "B". Meanwhile, HIV/AIDS advocates were requesting a paltry $126 million from the federal government last year to help alleviate the growing ADAP waiting lists. While Sen. Coburn has not always earned favor from the HIV/AIDS community, there have been other times when, as one of the Senate's only two licensed medical physicians, he has provided unquestionable leadership (including being an original co-sponsor of S.3401, which would have used unobligated stimulus funding to eliminate the ADAP waiting lists).
It has already been documented how the President's stimulus law funded countless of non-essential programs (Read: Mr. President, please “stimulate” the AIDS Drug Assistance Programs), yet the administration opposed using those same dollars to help the ADAP crisis. The Democratic-controlled Congress did little to nothing from 2009-2010 to help ADAP waiting list patients. And now, despite a small increase for ADAPs in the Fiscal Year 2010 federal appropriations law, Republicans in the House of Representatives are proposing to dismantle many of the safety-net programs designed to help people living with HIV/AIDS.
It begs the question, where is the leadership?
It is absurd to think that in the wealthiest nation on Earth, people living with HIV/AIDS are being forced to go without their life-saving medications, but $3 billion can be wasted on shrimp exercising and Jell-O wrestling, among other things. Make no mistake about it, BOTH political parties are to blame for funding these projects. Until the HIV/AIDS community in general, and specifically ADAP stakeholders rise up and demand accountability and funding for proven programs such as ADAP, we will continue to see more and more people living with HIV/AIDS pushed aside onto waiting lists.