Ga. now second in nation for AIDS drug wait list

As an “HIV survivor for more than 20 years,” this man is probably like many in Atlanta and throughout the country who have been able to take their needed medicines because they had a job and insurance.

Georgia Equality Executive Director Jeff Graham

Jeff Graham, executive director of Georgia Equality, says it is ‘outrageous’ Georgia ranks second in the nation for those on an ADAP waiting list. (Photo by Dyana Bagby)

But because he has a home — he’s lived in East Atlanta for eight years, but will likely have to sell soon and perhaps face bankruptcy — he doesn’t face the dire circumstances that some 300 people in the state face who are now on the waiting list for Georgia’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program, set up for people who fall some 200 percent below the federal poverty line.

“[B]ankruptcy won’t be far away. At 50, how will I ever recover from that? Then, and only then, if I’m lucky I can then get on the ADAP list. I think my story speaks a lot to the effects of the economy on the HIV positive community, where it was always a struggle but the economic downturn has just hit us extra hard,” he said.

Georgia implemented an ADAP waiting list on July 1, and with some 300 people now on the list, the state ranks second in the nation for low-income people waiting to receive the necessary medications to treat HIV/AIDS.

The state had an ADAP waiting list from 1997-2002 and at its peak, 1,600 low-income people were waiting to see if they could get the life-saving drugs they needed.

“That was when the state had no funding,” said Jeff Graham, an Atlanta AIDS activist for some 20 years and now executive director of Georgia Equality. “Over that time we were all working with many organizations to get that funding up to eliminate the waiting list.”

Gay and bisexual men and transgender individuals are at highest risk for contracting HIV in Georiga, Graham added.

The waiting list was eventually eliminated when needed funding came through and Graham said he had hoped Georgia would never be in the same situation.

“It shocks me we do have a list again and how fast the numbers have grown and there is not the same sense of urgency,” Graham said. “I really had hoped to not see another waiting list.”

Last year, Georgia Equality established the Georgia HIV Advocacy Network after it was determined there was a void in the community to lead HIV advocacy efforts.

“When we met with the state health department in late June, they presented an estimate that the list would grow about 150 people every month. In six weeks, that number is closer to 300 — it’s shocking and outrageous,” he added. “If we have 300 people after six weeks and if nothing is done, we will have 1,300 in the next year.”

“This really is a national problem and it’s growing in Georgia much faster than anticipated.”

The Obama administration has set aside $25 million this year to help with AIDS funding, but Graham said it will take $126 million to get the nation out of the ADAP crisis it currently faces.

Graham also stresses that people put on the waiting list should not drop out of the system because they are still eligible for case management and other critical care services. There are also drug companies that offer patient assistant programs.

The National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors reports that as of July 29, there were 2,359 people on ADAP waiting lists in 13 states, including Georgia, a 65 percent increase from the 1,431 individuals on the June 2010 ADAP Watch.

“This is a 65 percent increase from the 1,431 individuals on the June 2010 ADAP Watch,” NASTAD reports.

The Georgia HIV Advocacy Network is now in the process of launching a “SAVE ADAP” postcard campaign.

“We’re hoping to collect as many postcards as possible … and hand deliver them to our senators and members of Georgia’s congressional delegation when several of us will be in D.C. at the end of September,” Graham said.