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Vitale/ Rice Bill Providing $5 Million To Aids Program Advances

TRENTON – Legislation sponsored by Senators Joseph F. Vitale and Ronald L. Rice which would appropriate $5 million for the AIDS Drug Distribution Program (ADDP) and rapid AIDS testing was unanimously approved today by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

“HIV/AIDS is the modern world’s plague, an epidemic of staggering proportions which in this stage of the game has no known cure,” said Senator Vitale, D-Middlesex, the Chairman of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. “However, with the proper medication, and knowledge of the disease, people infected with the disease can live productive lives, and can avoid passing the disease on to others. The State has a moral obligation to support programs which would ease the suffering of AIDS victims, and would provide an invaluable tool in the elimination of the AIDS epidemic.”

“There are approximately 45,000 people in New Jersey who are living with HIV/AIDS, and many of those are people in our urban communities,” said Senator Rice, D-Essex, Chairman of the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee. “Modern medicine has created a number of life-sustaining and life-prolonging drugs, but poorer residents are simply unable to afford them without significant assistance from the State of New Jersey. We must provide the necessary resources to ensure that the ADDP can achieve its mission of bringing medicine to the traditionally underserved in the State.”

The bill, S-1803, would provide $2.3 million of the $5 million in total funding to the State-maintained ADDP to cover a projected shortfall and continue to provide low-income HIV/AIDS patients with medication. Senator Rice noted that federal cuts in Fiscal Year 2004 and 2005 to support people living with HIV/AIDS have left the ADDP unable to meet the needs of the State’s residents, and additional funding is necessary to continue providing services to New Jersey’s infected population.

“New Jersey ranks fifth in the nation in terms of the incidence of HIV/AIDS cases, and yet, in recent years, we’ve seen the federal budget slashed, leaving New Jersey with a greater financial burden to care for those infected with the disease,” said Senator Rice, D-Essex, Chairman of the Senate Community and Urban Affairs Committee. “The State’s AIDS Drug Distribution Program provides the needed medications to infected individuals with low income and allows people with HIV/AIDS a chance to live a full life. We need to fully fund the ADDP program to ensure that no one is left behind, regardless of income, when it comes to the medicine needed to fight the effects of HIV/AIDS.”

The bill also allocates $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. Senator Vitale added that the rapid AIDS testing, which would be conducted in hospitals’ emergency departments, is necessary to stem the spread of AIDS in New Jersey.

“Quite possible the biggest factor in the spread of AIDS is ignorance,” said Senator Vitale. “Most people would never knowingly expose their loved ones to a disease which, at this stage in medicine, is still a death sentence regardless of the increasing survival rates, but because they’re unaware of having the disease, they unknowingly infect others. Rapid AIDS testing would go a long way towards improving people’s awareness of the disease sooner, and might make all the difference in stopping the disease from being spread to the next victim.”

The bill was approved by the Senate by a vote of 37-0 in December. It now heads to the General Assembly for full consideration.

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