AIDS Drug Wait-list Could Be Deadly for Miami-Dade Minorities

A new statewide waiting list for antiretroviral drugs is putting thousands of Florida's poorest AIDS patients in serious danger, according to a top doctor at the University of Miami.

The list is particularly devastating for Miami-Dade minorities, who are at much higher risk of contracting HIV, says Dr. Michael Kolber, director of UM's Comprehensive AIDS Program."Here in Miami-Dade we have large minority populations that are being treated for HIV and the resources are not forthcoming," he says. "The implications of this wait-list for minorities are frightening."

Florida's AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) offers free antiretrovirals to HIV patients who don't have insurance or qualify for Medicaid. But beginning on June 1, the program began turning new patients away out of lack of funds.

Last year, Florida cut $1 million in funding from its $11.5 million ADAP budget. Other states facing budget shortfalls have also cut back on the program. In response, the Obama administration recently authorized an additional $30 million for state ADAPs, including an estimated $6.7 million for Florida.

But that's not nearly enough to prevent serious cutbacks here in Miami, Kolber says.

In roughly three months, the wait-list has tallied nearly 1,500 names, he says. Many of those needy patients are here in Miami, and an overwhelming percentage of them are African-Americans, Haitian-Americans, or Hispanics.

"We have the highest number of people in the nation on a waiting list for these meds," Kolber says.

He adds that the numbers are "highly skewed towards African-Americans," who make up roughly 50 percent of newly confirmed cases of HIV in Miami-Dade but only 20 percent of the population.

Kolber says it's disgusting that the program's money issues could end-up costing lives, but says ADAP officials are trying their hardest to find the necessary funds.

"It's not that they don't want to give the money (for wait-listed patients to receive drugs), but they just don't have it," he explains.
Even patients already enrolled in ADAP could be booted if the money doesn't materialize, he admits.

"They need millions of dollars to be able to pay for all the people (in the program)," Kolber says. "If they don't get that, they will have to start disenrolling people."

Either way, the budget crisis could be deadly for many in Miami. "Obviously, when you don't get medicine, your risks of getting sick skyrocket," Kolber says.

AIDS doctors and experts will meet on Sept. 18 at the Westin Colonnade in Coral Gables for the fourth annual "Optimizing Care for Minority Patients with HIV/AIDS " forum, sponsored by the Johns Hopkins University Office of CME and the Association of Nurses in AIDS Care (ANAC).

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.