What few could do for many

June 30, 1998|By Elizabeth Farber

I'VE BEEN thinking about this little puzzle for a while, and finally got around to attempting some of the math. The question is, with all the wealthy Hollywood types who sport their red ribbons on nationally televised awards ceremonies, why are some HIV and AIDS patients in this country still unable to take advantage of the promising triple-drug "cocktails" introduced two years ago.

Frankly, I'm morally outraged by this sort of hypocrisy. I don't understand how anyone can justify buying a multimillion-dollar mansion or a $100,000 car when people a stone's throw away are suffering and dying because they can't afford the treatment recommended for their affliction.

Buying life

I do not believe that Americans who test positive for the virus that causes AIDS are any more important than individuals suffering from cancer or other maladies. Rather, I present them as an example because they are the immediate faces behind the red ribbons that regularly adorn our beloved celebrities. For these sick people, it is clear that dollars buy life. And it is well-known that, despite impressive programs, such critical dollars are not available for many people.

Many state programs, for example, cannot supply the thousands of dollars necessary to cover the costs of combination therapy for each person without the necessary health insurance.

As a result, many states are forced to use lotteries to determine who will receive the treatment, to limit the number and types of drugs they cover and to impose strict income and health eligibility standards.

According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates, 600,000 to 900,000 U.S. citizens are living with HIV, but fewer than 200,000 are receiving the combination therapy, which ranges in price from $10,000 to $16,000 a year for a single patient.

While some people may not want treatment or don't know they're infected, others are on waiting lists and battling insurance companies to pay for the costly drugs.

So how do wealthy advocates of the fight against AIDS stand by and watch these people suffer?

Uncertain numbers

It's unclear how many HIV-infected people want the costly therapy but can't afford it. Richard Jefferys, a spokesman for the AIDS Treatment Data Network, estimates that it would cost about $1 billion to provide the therapy to patients who cannot afford it.

I don't think $1 billion is too much for a bunch of rich entertainers to raise in a year. Surely, 1,000 celebrities can spare $1 million each for this life-saving cause.

And if there aren't 1,000 celebrities who are willing to part with some jewels, or some cars, or some beachfront property, well, then maybe there are 100, or 10 or one.

Elizabeth Farber is a Towson free-lance writer.

Pub Date: 6/30/98

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