Focus Taiwan (09.28.12)
Chen Chang-hsun, a division director at Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stated at a public hearing on the agency’s HIV therapy program, that the cost of free HIV treatment is putting pressure on the budget. Chen explained that the funding for HIV treatment rose from New Taiwan (NT) $1.37 billion (approximately US $47 million) and 23 percent of the overall budget in 2007 to NT $2.69 billion (approximately US $92 million), or 45 percent of its budget in 2011. Expenses for HIV treatment in 2011 is expected to reach NT $2.9 billion (approximately US $99 million), or 53 percent of the budget. Chou Jih-haw, deputy director-general, noted that the increase in spending on HIV has limited the funding available for other programs, such as TB treatment or flu vaccines.
Taiwan has provided Azidothymidine (AZT) free to HIV patients since 1988 and began offering highly active antiretroviral therapy free in 1997. The HIV death rate has fallen from 40 percent in 1995 to under 4 percent in 2012, but the cost of therapy is straining the finances of the country’s health care system. Before 2007, treatment was covered by the national health insurance program, Taiwan’s universal health care system, but in 2007, the health insurance program stopped covering HIV therapy and medication because of the cost and CDC taking on the responsibility.
In 2011, CDC proposed to share the burden by having patients pay part of the cost of their treatment, but the proposal drew strong opposition from patients and activists who fear that having to pay may make some patients stop treatment. Lin Yi-hui, secretary-general of the Persons with HIV/AIDS Rights Advocacy Association, suggested that the government invest in prevention and education. She argued that a national campaign to raise awareness of HIV/AIDS and increase the high-risk person’s willingness to be screened is as important as treatment. Lin urged coverage for HIV therapy be returned to the national health insurance program. According to CDC statistics, from 2007 to 2011, there were 9,079 new cases reported, with 1,967 in 2011 alone. There are 22,020 known HIV cases in Taiwan and a total of 3,360 patients have died of the disease.