HARLINGEN, Texas (KVEO) — Hundreds of patients of a low-cost clinic in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) offering HIV prevention and treatment are at risk of losing their affordable care due to funding shortfall.
According to the Valley Aids Council (VAC), there are 2,600 HIV-positive individuals in the RGV and more than 90,000 throughout the state of Texas.
VAC receives funding through the Texas HIV Medication Program, which is facing a $52 million shortfall.
One reason for the deficit is an increase in enrollment over the past year.
“The number of enrollees increased by 30% due to COVID and people losing their jobs,” Cantu said. “Without their job, they also lost their insurance, so now they depended solely on the Texas HIV medication program.”
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Another cause is the increase in price, as technology advances.
“They’re making pills where you can take one pill instead of three or four, and so there’s an increase in the cost because those are more expensive as it becomes one pill per day, “Cantu said. “But by taking these pills, it also reduces the viral load to an undetectable level.”
Once a person is undetectable, they also become untransmittable.
To continue the treatment and prevention services at VAC and other clinics covered under the program, a budget of $103.4 million is needed over the next two years.
Cantu said they have been actively meeting with lawmakers, including State Reps. Alex Dominguez, Oscar Longoria, Bobby Guerra and Eddie Lucio III to stress the importance and are encouraging others to help by picking up the phone and calling their state representatives.
If that fails, Cantu explained tens of thousands of HIV-positive individuals in the state would have no choice but to find other ways to pay for these services.
“What does it do for not just the patient but the community and for Texas and for the country as a whole for the number of HIV cases?” Cantu posed. “That means a person that is no longer undetectable would now be transmitting the virus to their partner, which would mean there would be an increase in the number of new cases if they’re not on treatment.”
Last March, the clinics closed and transitioned to telehealth appointments, but they are now slowly transitioning back to in-person visits.
If interested in learning more about the impact of this virus, the virtual National LatinX Conference on HIV, HCV and SUD runs from April 15 to 16.