Deadra Lawson Smith has been living with HIV for the past 22 years.
“When I was diagnosed a lot of people were dying,” she said. “I can still remember what it felt like on that day. My knees buckled and I hit the wall.”
“If we get them on treatment (and) they can adhere to the treatment, they essentially have a normal life expectancy now,” said Dr. Helmut Albrecht, chief of the University of South Carolina’s Division of Infectious Diseases.
“If a person in their 20s finds out that they’re infected, we expect them not to die of HIV anymore,” he said.
The program provides medication and treatment for more than 3,000 South Carolinians living with the disease, who can not afford it.
“My medications keep me alive today and I know without them I would not be here,” said Smith.
“We are in need of ADAP funding. We are in need of prevention funding. Without it people will die,” she said.
South Carolina is now in the top ten in the nation in newly reported cases.
“We know about 24,000 (people) have been infected,” said Albrecht, “I think there’s another 25,000 out there that don’t know that they have it.”
“Our goal is to ensure that HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and the conversation around care in South Carolina is kept in the forefront,” said Dr. Bambi Gaddist, chair of the S.C. HIV/AIDS Care Crisis Task Force.
“We are finding more and more infection, through outreach, that means the pool of people needing ADAP (assistance) is increasing,” she said.
“This is so much more cost effective, because they are allowed to work. They can contribute,” he said. “That’s why it’s such an incredible bang for your buck.”
Smith says her message to lawmakers is simple.
“We are not ‘throw away people.’ We want to live. Most of us want to work, want to be productive and want to add to the tax base and not take away from it,” she said.
“We can not cure this, but we can treat this and prevent this,” said Albrecht.