AIDS groups to stage mock funeral at Speaker's home

Protesting the growing waiting list for government-subsidized AIDS drugs, AIDS groups this week will stage a mock funeral at the San Francisco home of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

Spearheaded by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the activists say the event pays tribute to the 13 AIDS patients who have died while on the waiting list of the AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP), which provides HIV/AIDS drugs to sufferers who can't afford the enormous costs. 

Just a few years ago, there was no ADAP waiting list. With the arrival of the recession, though, states facing budget crises have been forced to drop patients. AHF estimates almost 2,300 patients are waiting for drugs under the program.

Though the Obama administration has set aside $25 million for the ADAP program this fiscal year, activists say it's not nearly enough — and they're starting to take their frustrations out on Democratic leaders.

"Speaker Pelosi has remained silent while this crisis continues to worsen,” AHF spokesman Jessie Gruttadauria said Monday in a statement. If Congress doesn't intervene, he added, "thousands may become sick and die while waiting to receive the AIDS medications they need.”

The group has scheduled their mock funeral for Wednesday, with scores of activists and AIDS sufferers expected to participate. 

Pelosi's office on Monday defended the Speaker's track record on AIDS-related issues, noting that Congress in the last 18 months has reauthorized the Ryan White CARE Act, lifted the travel ban on those with HIV/AIDS and eliminated the prohibition on federal funding for needle-exchange programs.

Additionally, the fiscal 2011 health funding bill proposed by House Democrats  includes a $50 million increase for ADAP — $30 million more than proposed by President Obama, Pelosi's office said.

"Increased resources for HIV/AIDS care, treatment, prevention and research has been one of the Speaker’s highest priorities throughout her entire congressional career," Pelosi spokesman Drew Hammill said in an email.

One Democratic aide questioned the legitimacy of the AHF, calling it "a fringe group" that doesn't represent the mainstream HIV/AIDS community.

It's not the first time AHF has targeted the Speaker on the issue. In a July 22 letter to Pelosi, AHF President Michael Weinstein charged that "no national Democratic leader has made this crisis a priority."  

"Neither the $25 million from the Administration nor the proposals for increased funding for next fiscal year adequately address this expanding disaster," Weinstein wrote. "The need is immediate, and the consequences of inaction could not be clearer."

AHF is requesting $126 million to bolster the ADAP program to meet rising demand.

This story was updated at 7:20 p.m.