Taking On Washington
BY Benjamin Ryan
July 15 2009 12:00 AM ET
As Congress greases its wheels to overhaul the American health care system in the coming months, you can add your voice to the chorus by attending the Early Treatment for HIV Summit in Washington, D.C., on July 20 and 21.
The summit is cosponsored by the Community Access National Network and the ADAP Advocacy Association. The latter is a 2-year-old ad hoc group devoted to improving access to HIV care in the United States. Its executive director, Brandon M. Macsata, says the recent research suggesting that there are improved health outcomes among HIVers who start on antiretrovirals earlier in the course of the disease serves as an important call to action in this crossroads in U.S. policy making.
The summit will boast representatives from state health departments and AIDS offices, the pharmaceutical industry, specialty pharmacies, and health care organizations as well as AIDS advocates and people living with the virus. Broader discussions about health care reform will evolve into strategy sessions on improving prevention efforts and promoting early diagnosis and access to care as well as how better to reduce stigma and social isolation among HIVers -- for example, through social networking online.
A major topic on the table will be waiting lists for state AIDS Drug Assistance Programs. Always a part of the barometer AIDS advocates examine as an indicator for the government's success in responding to the epidemic, the overall waiting list has risen to as high as 2,372 people in 2005. Several deaths among the HIVers waiting for the government-subsidized antiretrovirals were reported. Thanks to the Bush administration's emergency appropriation of $20 million that year, the waiting list steadily diminished and hit zero for a good part of 2008. This year, the figure has risen again, to 99. Macsata warns that this uptick is a warning of bad times ahead, unless swift action is taken.
"The jury is in," says Macsata. "The better we can do to prevent the disease, diagnose the disease, and treat the disease early, it has profound impact. And until we design a system that allows for this early treatment, we're just going to be in this perpetual cycle of waiting lists."
He encourages HIVers to do their part.
"If there is going to be meaningful health care reform, people with HIV and AIDS need to be involved in the process."