April 9, 2011

April 9, 2011
Government Shut Down and HIV

Welcome to another day in my life. Today is Saturday and I hope your weekend is off to a safe and great start. It is another busy weekend for Dab the AIDS Bear and me.

If you have been watching the news at all, you know our government is in danger of shutting down if our elected officials can not agree on a national budget. While this has as much to do with the eternal bickering between Democrats and Republicans, what does this mean to the every day people and especially those with HIV and AIDS?

The Department of Health and Human Services would furlough 62 percent of its employees in a government shutdown, with the biggest impact felt on grant making agencies like the Food and Drug» Administration, according to documents posted Friday on the HHS website. HHS says 86 percent of FDA workers would be sent home.

And if the government shuts down, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) would be unable to launch eight research studies that were supposed to begin next week. Four of the research studies involve children, and two involve children who are being treated for cancer.

HHS officials had been reluctant until now to quantify the impact on public health activities, but released the numbers as negotiations continued to be at an impasse over the fiscal 2011 spending bill. The deadline is midnight tonight.

HHS says that it anticipates 47,693 staff department-wide would be sent home and 28,655 kept on duty as essential personnel.

The Administration for Children and Families and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration would have 91 percent of its staff members furloughed while the Indian Health Service, which directly serves patients, would largely remain in operation with just six percent furloughed, HHS said.

At NIH, 75 percent of the staff would be furloughed, with the NIH Clinical Center continuing to provide services for current patients though no new ones would be admitted. The clinical center would not initiate any new clinical trials and NIH would not be making any research grants or signing contracts outside the agency.

According to HHS officials speaking on background, there are now 1,443 studies underway at the NIH clinical center, where every patient is on a research protocol. Included in the 1,443 research protocols are 640 clinical trials in which the effectiveness of new «drugs» or devices are being studies. Of those, 285 are related to treatments for cancer, and 60 of them involve children with cancer.

The NIH plan reflects the number of staffers who would be on duty the second business day of a hiatus after initial shutdown activities are completed.

Among HHS operations:

•New grants and ongoing technical assistance to Head Start centers would end. HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius has said some Head Start centers are so strapped for cash they might have to close right away.

•Technical support to local behavioral health centers would stop.

•Grants connected with the Ryan White/HIV/AIDS program would stop.

•FDA review of new pharmaceuticals and medical devices would be suspended.

•Food and «drug» safety reporting and monitoring of drug safety interactions would be suspended.

•Services for Medicare beneficiaries such as the 1-800 Medicare phone line and website updates would be affected, with longer hold and wait times.

So hopefully those in Washington DC will do what is best for the American people and iron out a solution without closing down the government. Or at least we can hope.

Until we met again; here's wishing you health, hope, happiness and just enough.

big bear hug,

Daddy Dab