Atlanta to fight HIV epidemic with new public health officer

Facing continuing high rates of new HIV infections in Atlanta, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms is creating a chief health officer in her administration to bolster the city's efforts at fighting the epidemic.

The announcement came during Bottoms’ (top photo) State of the City address at the Georgia World Congress Center on Thursday. She cited several ways the city is addressing the spread of HIV.

Bottoms noted that her for the first time ever, the city included money in its budget specifically to fight HIV. Her LGBTQ Advisory Board proposed in January that Bottoms allocate $100,000 to provide PrEP services.

“We’re also hiring a chief health officer who will create strategies to drive down the rate of new infections,” she said Thursday.

The scope of the position and when it will be filled have not been publicly announced.

Bottoms’ announcement meets a campaign pledge she made during a mayoral candidate forum in August 2017. She also made the pledge in an interview with Project Q Atlanta. She said at the time that although Fulton County has a public health director, HIV “impacts the entire city” and the county “has dropped the ball in terms of our HIV rates and our prevention rates and our education rates.”

Bottoms also noted in Thursday’s speech that the city earned its highest-ever score on the Human Rights Campaign’s Municipal Equality Index last October. 

“This measures a city’s laws, policies and services for the protection of its LGBTQ community, and we are proud that Atlanta remains a national leader,” she said.

Bottoms also cited Atlanta’s partnership with the Elton John AIDS Foundation. The singer and part-time Atlanta resident was in town last December to kick off AIDSfree, an effort that will support his foundation’s funding in Atlanta and five other cities around the world. Bottoms said this partnership “will take the fight against HIV to another level.”

Metro Atlanta has the fourth-highest rate of new HIV infections, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

Bottoms tapped Rabbi Josh Lesser to deliver the benediction to close Thursday’s ceremony. Lesser is the openly gay founder of the Southern Jewish Resource Network for Gender & Sexual Diversity, chair of the Atlanta Human Relations Commission and a member of Bottoms’ LGBTQ Advisory Board.