Time for action on HIV victims

WHEN, in his March Budget, the Financial Secretary, Mr Hamish Macleod, announced a $350 million award to fight AIDS and help HIV-infected haemophiliacs, the move was warmly welcomed. This newspaper, which had led a campaign to win cash for the haemophiliacs, gave its full support. Their plight has been one of the saddest human tragedies of recent years, and as they were infected by contaminated blood in Government clinics, it was only proper public money should, however tardily, be awarded to ease their burden.

That was more than a month ago. Since then, few if any of the families has received so much as a phone call from officials charged with administering the money. And since then, 15-year-old ''Ah-sum'' has lost several kilograms as he slides towards a painful, inevitable death from AIDS. When he visited Mr Chris Patten before the Budget speech, he expressed a wish to be able to visit Disneyland before he died. Even were the money to turn up in his parents' bank account today, he would no longer be able to.

Meanwhile, the slow wheels of bureaucracy grind on. If Ah-sum is well enough to read the papers, he will learn a six-member council has been set up to spend the money as quickly as possible - after, that is, a yet-to-be-appointed sub-committee advises iton how to proceed.

A Government official says that not a cent will find its way to victims before June, and parents have understandably expressed shock at the delay. While the red tape continues to unfurl, and the new council sits in deliberation, Ah-sum is dying.

It is possible he will be dead before his family receives anymoney, let alone a phone call. According to Professor David Todd, the chairman of the council, Ah-sum can at least take consolation in the fact that his family will not lose out on the money after his death.

Our campaign was not designed to attack the Government or expose maladministration over the original infection of the haemophiliacs, but to bring to the public's attention the tragedy of their suffering. Our hope was that the pressure of a media campaignwould eventually win the money that could be spent urgently to alleviate this suffering while the victims are alive. After the announcement of the award, we were assured that battle had been won. Weeks later, it is not so clear.

Promises made in a fiscal policy speech do not prolong lives or ease pain. The fact that bureaucracy has been allowed to delay even an interim payment is a disgrace. In the name of the 61 sufferers, we appeal: stop talking, start acting. The suffering has gone on long enough.