Failure to Use Emergency Fund Limiting Government AIDS Research, Study Says

Times Staff Writer

The Department of Health and Human Services has hampered research efforts on the deadly disease acquired immune deficiency syndrome by siphoning funds from its other public health activities instead of utilizing a $30-million emergency fund created by Congress in 1983, a congressional agency charges in a report to be released later this week.

As a result, agencies of the Public Health Service are unable to effectively plan their AIDS work because they never know how much funding or staff will be available, according to the Office of Technology Assessment, the independent, analytical arm of Congress. Moreover, the agency said, "cutbacks and threatened cuts in overall funding and personnel levels have restricted the ability of affected agencies to redirect resources."

The agency's report, a copy of which was obtained by The Times, said that individual health agencies have consistently asked Health and Human Services to request specific sums from Congress for AIDS research and that "the department has consistently submitted requests for amounts smaller than those suggested by the agencies."

No. 1 Priority

Increases in funding for AIDS-related research have come largely at the initiative of Congress, even though the department has labeled the disease the country's No. 1 health priority, the report said.

Furthermore, the agency said, the Reagan Administration has not sought appropriations for the Public Health Emergency Act, which established a $30-million revolving fund in 1983--in response to the AIDS crisis--to be used by the federal government in the event of public health emergencies.

Health and Human Services officials could not be reached Tuesday for comment. But in a Dec. 20 letter written after he read a draft of the agency's report, Dr. Edward N. Brandt Jr., former assistant secretary for health, said the congressional office failed to give adequate credit to the department for the "massive effort" it has mounted against AIDS.

"Although it is true that each of the Public Health Service agencies has had to make readjustments and reallocations of its resources, we have nevertheless been successful in mounting a coordinated attack in the fight against AIDS," Brandt wrote. "I assure you that adequate funds have been appropriated for fiscal year 1985 to permit the Public Health Service agencies to carry out all of the AIDS requirements which have been presented to me."

4,017 Deaths Reported

AIDS is caused by a virus that destroys the body's immune system, leaving it vulnerable to a range of opportunistic illnesses. The disease is apparently spread through sexual contact and blood and blood products. Thus far in the United States, 73% of its victims have been male homosexuals. As of Feb. 11, there had been 8,314 cases of AIDS, with 4,017 deaths.

By the end of 1986, the agency's report estimated, 40,000 new cases of AIDS will be reported in the United States.

The report was prepared at the request of the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health and environment and the Government Operations subcommittee on intergovernmental relations and human resources. Both panels have scheduled a hearing on the matter Thursday.

California Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Los Angeles), chairman of the health and environment subcommittee, said the report shows that AIDS research has been "shortchanged."

'Shortsighted View'

"AIDS is a public health disaster that is getting worse," Waxman said. "This Administration is interested only in saving money and is taking a shortsighted view of this problem. I think they have mismanaged the whole government response to a very serious public health crisis."

Because AIDS was not discovered until March, 1981, the report said, "there was no opportunity" for the Administration to seek money in its initial budget requests.

"However, although the need for additional resources was becoming clear in late 1981 and 1982, no requests for funds were made in those years--not even through requests for transfer authorities," the report said.

It added: "The Administration did not acknowledge the need for funds specifically for AIDS until May, 1983, when the assistant secretary for health requested the authority to transfer funds across agency lines."

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