- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 1, 2003

President Bush said yesterday the federal government is expediting availability of a new, highly accurate AIDS test that can provide results in less than 30 minutes, and announced he is seeking a 7 percent increase in domestic funding for AIDS prevention.
"We are determined to turn the tide against AIDS … as we move forward into the 21st century … there's no doubt we can arrest the pandemic," Mr. Bush said after a morning meeting with his advisory council on HIV/AIDS.
Of the new, faster AIDS test, Mr. Bush said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services "has waived regulations so the test will soon be more readily available to doctors and public health facilities across the country."
Approved for marketing by the Food and Drug Administration in early November, the so-called "OraQuick" test, made by OraSure Technologies Inc. of Bethlehem, Pa., was originally slated to be available in 38,000 laboratories nationwide, an FDA spokeswoman said.
But as a result of the intervention by HHS, it's now scheduled to be available for use in more than 100,000 sites throughout the nation, including doctors' offices and HIV counseling centers, Michael Gausling, CEO of OraSure Technologies, said in a telephone interview.
"This waiver allows us to take this test where people need it most. … This product can virtually go anywhere now," said Mr. Bush, who in Tuesday's State of Union asked Congress to triple AIDS spending in Africa and the Caribbean to $15 billion over five years.
Federal health officials say the new test, which will be available within a few months, is needed because every year in the United States, an estimated 8,000 people infected with HIV, the AIDS virus, go to clinics for testing but do not return a week later to get the results.
The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says there are about 900,000 Americans infected with HIV and that about a quarter of that population do not know it. Worldwide, 36 million people are infected with the virus that causes AIDS 25 million in Africa alone.
Also yesterday, Mr. Bush announced he is proposing $16 billion for AIDS prevention and treatment in the United States in fiscal 2004, a 7 percent rise over current spending.
Mr. Bush said the OraQuick test is simple, because it requires only a drop of blood drawn from the finger, has a better than 99 percent accuracy rate and discloses results "in less than 30 minutes."
Mr. Gausling said the test takes 20 minutes, compared with the several days current tests take. An FDA spokeswoman stressed that the new test can be performed by properly trained operators
"This country needs to provide some hope, because this disease can be prevented, and it can be treated," Mr. Bush said yesterday.
But he added: "How can you treat [HIV] if you don't test" and determine the infection is present.
Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, which did an investigation that discovered at least $1 billion in tax money was being wasted in domestic AIDS programs, said the new spending "needs to be scrutinized closely."
CAGW was particularly incensed about some purported AIDS-prevention programs in U.S. cities that even some homosexual activists said focus more on gay men's social lives than their health.
"We argue that AIDS is not as much of a problem in the U.S. now," as it is in other parts of the world, particularly sub-Saharan Africa, Mr. Schatz said.
"We have 0.8 percent of the world's total AIDS population. Yet, in one year, we'll be spending as much for AIDS in this country as we'll be spending over five years in other countries," where AIDS remains at crisis levels, he added.
This story is based in part on wire dispatches.

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