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Panel Sounds Warning on AIDS in S.F. : Medicine: The mayor's task force says the city must double spending to fight the disease. 'We require disaster relief in order to cope,' it warns.

January 11, 1990|MARK A. STEIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN FRANCISCO — A blue-ribbon task force has advised Mayor Art Agnos that San Francisco must nearly double the $165 million a year now being spent on AIDS--largely to expand drug treatment--if the city's model care program is to avoid collapse in the 1990s.

In a 35-page report to be released today, the Mayor's HIV Task Force warns that because more infected people are becoming acutely ill and more drug addicts are becoming infected, the city's AIDS effort is "severely threatened by demands that have overwhelmed its resources."

The report says the city must find money to supply expensive antiviral drugs to people as soon as they are exposed to the disease, expand treatment facilities and redouble efforts to limit spread of the disease among intravenous drug users--by supplying them with free, clean needles on demand, if necessary.

Implementing all of the report's proposals may cost as much as $310 million annually.

Expanding the city's often-praised volunteer programs can absorb some of the burden, the report said, "but even with new commitments from each of us, federal and state government must play a key role."

A Disaster'

"AIDS has struck San Francisco like a disaster," the 20-member task force noted in its report, "and we require disaster relief in order to cope."

The committee, headed by local physician Don Francis, said that billions of dollars in aid was made available after last October's earthquake, which killed 13 people within the city limits. AIDS, by contrast, has killed more than 5,000 San Franciscans over the last decade and the number grows every day. An estimated 25,000 San Franciscans have tested positive for the AIDS virus.

A key suggestion in the report is a call for greatly expanded use of two drugs known to slow the disease's destruction of the body's immune system, AZT and pentamidine.

These costly drugs now are usually administered only when the patient shows symptoms of AIDS-related disease, such as rare cancers or lingering pneumonia. The report suggests making the drugs available to infected people as soon as their immune systems start to falter.

The task force estimates that increasing availability of the two drugs alone will boost the cost of AIDS care in San Francisco by between $78 million and $93 million annually.

The report said that if drug treatment delays or prevents the onset of AIDS symptoms, the cost would be more than offset in the long run by not having to treat people in the advanced stages of the disease.

The committee was appointed by Agnos in January, 1989.

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