Almost one third of people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) are currently living below the poverty line, according to the HIV Futures 3 report launched last week by the federal Minister for Health, Kay Patterson.

The release of HIV Futures 3 marks the third national study by La Trobe University on health and wellbeing issues of Australians living with HIV/AIDS.

ACON president Adrian Lovney said the findings highlight concerns that PLWHA will suffer unfairly under the 2002/03 Federal Budget.

This report demonstrates how the Federal Government’s move to increase the cost of prescription drugs by 27 percent will have an enormous impact on this group of people living with HIV/AIDS who are already struggling, Lovney said.

More than half of these people reported significant difficulties meeting costs of HIV medication and other prescribed medication.

The proposed changes to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme are compounded by fears that many PLWHA now receiving the Disability Support Pension will be forced into Newstart -“ facing a reduction in income of up to $53 per fortnight.

We could run the risk of discouraging people from continuing HIV treatment and could lead to higher rates of illness and hospitalisation, Lovney said.

La Trobe’s chief investigator on the HIV Futures 3 project agrees with Lovney’s conclusion.

The burden of cost is such that there may be real concerns around illness rates, Dr Jeffrey Grierson told Sydney Star Observer.

I’d hate to see us end up in the sort of situation the US is in, where if you’re not rich, you can’t stay well. We have been progressively heading towards that with the gap widening between those who have access to treatments and those who are being increasingly marginalised.

Figures from the HIV Futures 3 report show that one quarter of the respondents living below the poverty line rated paying for medical services as very difficult. Dr Grierson said the proposed PBS and DSP reforms would exacerbate this situation.

People may actually avoid all sorts of health maintenance because they’re worried about the costs, Dr Grierson said.

Other economic issues in the report highlighted a continuing decline in the social circumstances of PLWHA. The items that most respondents (above and below the poverty line) rated as very difficult to pay for were quality of life costs, like travel, going out and entertainment.

While HIV Futures 3 praises the efforts of welfare and support services in addressing these needs, Dr Grierson said the changes outlined in the federal budget would result in the demand for assistance outstripping available re-sources.

I think the impact on organisations like Bobby Goldsmith is going to be immense. They’re going to be making horrendous decisions about whether to support people in terms of food or medication, let alone quality of life, he said.

There’s absolutely no reason for that in a country as developed as a Australia. I think it’s really disturbing that we are a society with this much wealth and we can’t even look after our own.

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