Bush Announces HHS Approval of Expanded Availability of Rapid HIV Test, $16B for Domestic HIV/AIDS Efforts in FY 2004 Budget
President Bush on Friday announced that HHS has approved expanded availability for a "rapid" HIV test, allowing health care workers to now use it in more than 100,000 doctors' offices and public health clinics across the country, Reuters/Washington Post reports. OraSure Technologies' OraQuick HIV test offers results that are 99.6% accurate within 20 minutes (Reuters/Washington Post, 2/1). The FDA in November 2002 approved the test, which uses blood taken from a finger prick, for use in only about 40,000 hospitals and clinics with laboratories. AIDS groups had advocated for making the test available at smaller outreach clinics and mobile testing sites in order to make the test more accessible to the general population (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 11/8/02). Bush said on Friday that HHS had "waived regulations so the test will soon be more readily available to doctors and public health facilities across the country." He added, "This waiver allows us to take this test where people need it most. ... This product can virtually go anywhere now" (Howard Price, Washington Times, 2/1). The test would also help to reduce mother-to-child HIV transmission by allowing health care workers to quickly test pregnant women who are in labor, Reuters/Philadelphia Inquirer reports. If the women tested positive for HIV, they could take antiretroviral drugs to help reduce the risk of HIV transmission to their infants (Reuters/Philadelphia Inquirer, 2/1). Clint Trout, AIDS Healthcare Foundation associate director for federal government affairs, said, "The elimination of the week-long waiting period will be the elimination of significant barriers to testing for many high-risk individuals. Now that the tests are widely available to family doctors, emergency rooms, and public health testing and counseling programs, they will play a critical role in curtailing the spread of the epidemic" (AHF release, 1/31). Daniel Montoya, director of government affairs for AIDS Project Los Angeles, said, "This expansion allows us to give immediate results and immediate information. If the results are negative, it is an opportunity for prevention education. If the test is positive the person has immediate access to counseling, care and treatment resources" (APLA release, 1/31).
Bush also announced on Friday that he would seek $16 billion for domestic HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment as part of his fiscal year 2004 budget proposal, the New York Times reports. The proposed funding represents a 7% increase over Bush's proposed FY 2003 domestic HIV/AIDS spending (Gay Stolberg, New York Times, 2/1). The proposal will include a $93 million increase for HIV/AIDS research and a $100 million increase to purchase antiretroviral drugs for uninsured patients through AIDS Drug Assistance Programs, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports (Brown, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2/1). Human Rights Campaign Executive Director Elizabeth Birch said, "We applaud President Bush for signaling a renewed commitment to increasing access to life-saving HIV medications in this country by requesting increased funding for the ADAP program -- a program that is currently not able to meet the need in many states due to depleted funds" (HRC release, 1/31). The Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center said that Bush's proposal "still falls short of meeting domestic needs." However, Rebecca Isaacs, LAGLC interim executive director, said, "In view of the President's flat-funding proposals over the past two years ... this proposed increase suggests that the administration now is getting the message that domestic HIV programs must also be a priority issue" (LAGLC release, 1/31).
Last week during his State of the Union address, Bush announced the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, a five-year, $15 billion plan to fight HIV/AIDS in Africa and the Caribbean. The plan is designed to prevent seven million new infections; provide antiretroviral drugs, including generic formulations, for two million people; and provide care for 10 million HIV-positive people, including children who have lost one or both parents to AIDS-related illness (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/30). These latest steps in the fight against AIDS signal a "sharp turn in policy" for the Bush administration, the Wall Street Journal reports. Bush had previously not given efforts to combat HIV/AIDS a "high priority," and he was criticized by some advocacy groups. Some advisers now say that the "broadly expanded" efforts offered by Bush "dovetail with his view of a compassionate government," according to the Wall Street Journal (Hitt et al., Wall Street Journal, 2/3). Bush is scheduled to submit his FY 2004 budget proposal to Congress today (New York Times, 2/1).
Thompson Accepts Position as Head of Global Fund
In related news, HHS Secretary Tommy Thompson on Friday accepted the position of chair of the board of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, saying, "We must bring care and hope as soon as possible to the millions of people around the world who are ravaged by these diseases" (HHS release, 1/31). Thompson, who was the only candidate for the position after Lennarth Hjelmaker of Sweden dropped out, will serve as the organization's "chief fundraiser," soliciting donations from wealthy nations throughout the world, including the United States. The current chair, Chrispus Kiyonga, a government minister from Uganda, on Jan. 28 announced that he would not seek reelection due to a "critical matter" in his country (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 1/31). In a statement to the Global Fund's board, Thompson said, "Ours is an enormous task and the world has placed an incredible burden on our shoulders. We must realize that only by investing wisely the resources in scientifically sound projects and by demanding financial accountability, can we demonstrate to the world that they should continue and expand on their commitments to the Global Fund" (Thompson statement, 1/31). Jeffrey Sachs, director of Columbia University's Earth Institute and an economic adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, called the Thompson announcement "bizarre," charging that the move said that "if American money was going to go for something, it needed to be under American control." However, Bush countered such criticism on Friday, saying, "I've been asked whether or not we're committed to the Global AIDS Fund. Well, first of all, I wouldn't put Tommy (Thompson) as the head of it if we weren't." Bush added, "It's more than money we bring. ... We bring expertise and compassion and love and the desire to develop a comprehensive system ... for diagnosis and treatment and prevention" (Garrett, Newsday, 2/1). A kaisernetwork.org HealthCast of Bush's State of the Union address and his remarks made on Friday regarding international and domestic HIV/AIDS are available online.