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Homearrow News and Events Year 2010 Activists Rally to Save HIV/AIDS Funding - News Channel 7

Activists Rally to Save HIV/AIDS Funding - News Channel 7

COLUMBIA, S.C. --

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.”

Being diagnosed with HIV may have been a death sentence 20 years ago, but modern treatments have dramatically improved the prognosis for those living with HIV.

“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.

That’s why a number of activists, patients and health care providers rallied at the Statehouse Wednesday to urge lawmakers to save funding for HIV and AIDS programs.

They say a budget proposal before the state legislature would cut funding for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, or ADAP, by $3.7 million.

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.

cuts have forced the ADAP program to create a wait list for people newly diagnosed with HIV.

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.”

However, he says that the state is now last in the nation for funding of HIV and AIDS prevention programs, and activists say proper funding is critical to preventing the spread of the disease.

“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.

Albrecht says investing in HIV and AIDS treatment and prevention can ultimately reduce the medical costs to the state and federal governments and reduce the drain on the Medicaid system.

“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.

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