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Monday, August 27, 2012 - 12:30pm

State Clears AIDS Drugs Wait List

Uninsured Georgians who need help paying for AIDS drugs don’t have to be placed on a waiting list anymore after state health officials eliminated what was once the largest backlog in the nation.

State officials used $8 million in federal cash and a government-managed health care plan for people with pre-existing conditions to clear the backlog.

AIDS Athens serves patients in 10 northeast Georgia counties and had about 25 clients on the waiting list. Executive director Olivia Long says HIV and AIDS patients have to take the drugs for the rest of their lives to keep the virus in check. So while she’s grateful the patients on the waiting list are getting help, she said prevention remains key.

“The potential is always there for another waiting list," Long said. "That goes directly to not only the money [issue] but also to the increase in people who are positive. The more positive people we have, the more medications we’re going to need.”

Doctors diagnosed 2,037 Georgians with HIV or AIDS in 2010. And new federal recommendations call for anti-viral drug therapy to begin as soon as patients are diagnosed with HIV, instead of waiting until the virus is more active. Patrick O’Neal with the state Department of Public Health said that will increase the number of Georgians in the AIDS drugs program.

“According to our estimates, we do have enough funding with this recent infusion of funds from the federal level to handle what we think are those who are going to qualify," O'Neal said. "But we don’t have all the numbers assembled for sure yet, so I’m a little bit nervous in terms of just how effective we’re going to be with the new recommendations.”

Once the largest in the nation, Georgia’s waiting list included more than 1,500 people last December.