TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Joseph F. Vitale which would appropriate $5 million for HIV/AIDS treatment funding and rapid response testing was approved today by the Senate by a vote of 36-1.
“HIV/AIDS is cutting a swath through New Jersey’s population, and spreading faster than we are able to contain the disease,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, the Chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. “The State has an obligation to help those who are infected stave off the disease for as long as possible, and to identify the disease early to slow the spread before it reaches catastrophic proportions. If we turn our backs on those suffering from HIV/AIDS now, we may regret that decision in the future.”
The bill, S-1803, would provide $2.3 million in funding to the State-maintained ADDP to cover a projected shortfall and continue to provide low-income HIV/AIDS patients with medication, and $2.7 million for rapid AIDS testing, with $850,000 allocated for testing and $1.85 million allocated for care and treatment of newly diagnosed AIDS patients. The bill was amended from the original $10 million appropriated for HIV/AIDS treatment because the Department of Health and Senior Services (DHS) was able to identify overlapping funds from the original bill; however, the sponsors noted that State funding is necessary because federal funds still fall short of meeting New Jersey’s needs in combating the disease.
“By identifying other funding sources, the Department has shown a good faith effort to keep costs down on these programs,” said Senator Vitale. “This bill addresses a vital need in New Jersey, but at the same time, DHS recognizes the State’s tight fiscal situation, and is looking to make the most of the money available. This is the sort of fiscally responsible good government that helps people without digging the Garden State further into debt.”
Senator Vitale expressed hope that recent developments in treating HIV/AIDS may someday yield a cure. Particularly, Senator Vitale pointed to published reports this weekend of a trio of drugs being developed by Rutgers University which may have the potential to destroy the HIV virus before it develops into full-blown AIDS.
“The advances that are being made in the field of HIV/AIDS treatment almost on a daily basis are amazing, but unfortunately at this point, contracting the virus is akin to being condemned with a death sentence,” said Senator Vitale. “For the time being, we must look to the available treatment options in order to ease the suffering of those who’ve been infected, and look for ways to limit new infections, if we are ever going to control the HIV/AIDS epidemic in New Jersey.”
The bill was approved by the Senate Health Committee in October, and the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee earlier this month. It now heads to the Assembly for consideration.