Ralliers beg state lawmakers not to cut HIV/AIDS funding

By Brandi Cummings - bio | email

COLUMBIA, SC (WIS) - Dozens of people rallied Wednesday at the State House, pleading with lawmakers not to cut HIV-AIDS funding.

People gathered just steps away from Governor Nikki Haley's office, hoping their voices would be heard. The 45-minute rally called on lawmakers to reverse cuts to funding the medications for people who so desperately need it.

Many of the ralliers are working to prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, while others stand as examples of why they say funding medicine for the disease is crucial. "I contracted HIV from a past boyfriend and the story went on from there," said Deadra Lawson-Smith, who has lived with HIV 23 years.

She, like so many others, take medicine daily because of the disease. It pains her to think that would have to change. "They still don't get it yet," said Lawson-Smith. "They don't get it that if they get people healthy, not only with their physical health, but with their emotional and mental health -- get them healthy, they'll be like me. They can go to work, they can pay taxes"

Dr. Bambi Gaddist, Executive Director of the South Carolina HIV/AIDS Council, says the state could end up paying health care costs for persons living with HIV/AIDS one way or the other, but there are options.

"If they really want to save dollars, if they really want to save money on the front end, then we need to curtail the new growth that we're seeing and for those few people that need assistance," said Gaddist. "We need to do something to ensure that they stay out of the hospital."

Nearly 18,000 people in South Carolina live with HIV, and more than half of them are not getting regular medical care. "It's really important right now to look at access to health care for people living with HIV, particularly in the South," said Dortay Alsentzer, a researcher at Harvard Law School's Health Law and Policy Clinic.

On Wednesday, the group released a report on South Carolina's response to HIV/AIDS. According to the study, transportation, stigma and lack of education are just some of the barriers to healthcare access.

"We are on the pinnacle of coming to some solutions, but we need our legislature and our community to get involves in those solutions," said Gaddist.

"We've got a touch challenge ahead to get the funding we need, but I think a lot of other things will get cut first before we cut those with HIV/AIDS or cancer or other terminal illnesses," said Rep. Tracey Edge.

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