Sequestration to impact Hobson City AIDS clinic
by Eddie Burkhalter
Mar 03, 2013 | 932 views |  0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Julie Hope worries that federal budget cuts will make it that much harder for her agency to care for its HIV patients.

Hope, director of education and outreach at the Health Services Center in Hobson City, said that with the nearly $85 billion in cuts in federal spending nationwide that began Friday will come cuts to HIV testing and life-sustaining prescription drug programs.

The nonprofit center uses state and federal funds to provide HIV testing and medical care, housing, substance-abuse treatment, mental-health care and case management for patients across 14 counties in east Alabama.

The center in 2012 conducted 2,098 HIV tests, paid for by the Alabama Department of Public Health, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

The White House estimates that the Alabama Department of Public Health will lose about $165,000 resulting in around 4,100 fewer HIV tests across the state.

Hope’s not sure just how much less federal funding the center will receive for those tests, but she worries that as the cuts begin to affect federal agencies in the coming months, money for tests will have to be found elsewhere.

“If I don’t test, I don’t find that person out there that’s infected and doesn’t know it. That person infects others. On and on and on it goes,” Hope said.

In Calhoun County there were 323 known cases of HIV/AIDS in 2012, according to the Alabama Department of Public Health. Statewide, 11,908 people are living with HIV/AIDS.

The White House also estimates that cuts to the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, known as ADAP, will mean 7,400 fewer patients in the United States will receive HIV medication.

“That’s huge,” said Kathie Heirs, chief executive officer at AIDS Alabama, a statewide support and prevention organization.

“We’re going to have more people on the ADAP waiting list ... All the things that we fight so hard with limited resources to try to prevent is going to come back to bite us. We’re very worried about it.”

At any given time of year, the clinic pays for medication for about 140 patients at an average cost of about $18,000 annually. Each year, the center spends about $2.5 million in medication assistance, money it receives through the AIDS Drug Assistance Program.

Hope said new research shows that HIV-infected persons who take their medications regularly are 97 percent less likely to infect a partner. That means keeping patients on medication reduces new cases, Hope said.

Hope pointed to a 2006 study by Cornell University that found that one prevented infection saves around $385,200 in lifetime treatment costs.

“We know the epidemic is not going away. We know our patients are still going to be here,” Hope said.

It’s just hard to plan for the future when funding is so uncertain, she said.

Staff writer Eddie Burkhalter: 256-235-3563. On Twitter @Burkhalter_Star.

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