To cope with the longest waiting list for a state AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) in the nation, Florida is turning to corporate donations and federal stop-gap measures.
"I really worry sometimes that it feels like we're going backwards," said Avery Garner, a Jacksonville resident who chairs the Florida Gay Men's HIV Work Group.
As of Nov. 18, Florida had 2,246 individuals on its ADAP waiting list, according to the National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors. The program's first waiting list in about 15 years was created in April, when it reached an all-time high of about 2,400 people.
"Until April of this year, we have always been able to provide services uninterrupted to someone HIV-positive and qualified," said Tom Liberti, chief of the Florida Department of Health's Bureau of HIV/AIDS. "When the recession began, we could see this perfect storm developing, where demand for services increased and federal and state resources did not."
While treatment funding generally has been dropping, money for HIV testing and prevention has been on the rise, Liberti said. State officials hope Ryan White funding will plug some gaps in treatment by next April. Pharmaceutical firms are offering access to treatment through charitable programs to clients on the waiting list.
"The good news is, we've placed a lot of emphasis on slowing infections among African-American women, and we're starting to see those numbers go down," said Max Wilson, Jacksonville-based regional AIDS prevention coordinator for the state health department. "The bad news is, we cannot say the same for men who have sex with men."
Statewide, Florida reports about 7,000 new HIV infections annually, and about 48,000 Floridians have a diagnosis of AIDS, according to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.