Cobb, Gwinnett residents fall behind in HIV testing

At least four in 10 residents in the four Georgia counties with the highest rates of HIV have never been tested, according to new data from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. 

The CDC focused on the seven states and the additional 50 local jurisdictions with the majority of new HIV diagnoses. That included Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties. The report was released on Thursday to mark National HIV Testing Day.

Jonathan Mermin (photo), director of the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD & TB Prevention, said testing is crucial to ending the epidemic.  

“Knowledge is power when it comes to HIV — that is why everyone in America should get an HIV test at least once in our lives,” Mermin said in a statement. “It is a simple way we can all help end the HIV epidemic in the U.S.”

Some 38.9 percent of U.S. adults have been tested for HIV, and 10.1 percent have been tested in the past year, according to the report. The numbers were higher in the 50 local jurisdictions with the highest HIV rates. Some 46.9 percent of them had been tested, with 14.5 percent getting tested in the past year.

According to the report, Cobb and Gwinnett were below the average of those in the 50 local jurisdictions who have ever been tested (43.7 percent for Cobb, 43.2 percent in Gwinnett), and of those who’ve been tested in the past year (10.1 percent in Cobb, 11.8 percent in Gwinnett). 

DeKalb and Fulton came in above the average in those ever tested (57.1 percent in DeKalb, 56.9 percent in Fulton) and those tested in the past year (19.5 percent in DeKalb, 19.7 percent in Fulton).

The CDC recommends that everyone between the ages of 13 to 64 get tested at least once in their lifetime. They recommend that gay and bisexual men, those who inject drugs, anyone who’s had more than one sex partner since their last test, and those diagnosed with a different sexually transmitted infection be tested at least once a year.

CDC Director Robert Redfield said that diagnosis and treatment are “the first steps toward affording individuals living with HIV a normal life expectancy.”

“As we encourage those at risk for HIV to seek care, we need to meet them in their journey,” Redfield said in a statement. “This means clearing the path of stigma, finding more comfortable ways of delivering health services, as well as learning from individuals already in treatment so the journey becomes easier for others who follow.”

Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett are being targeted in President Donald Trump’s plan to end HIV/AIDS in the next 10 years. The goal of Trump’s plan is to reduce new HIV infections nationwide by 75 percent in five years and by at least 90 percent in 10 years, according to the plan released Feb. 5. 

Public health officials refused to say how much federal money would be budgeted for the plan. Some local HIV/AIDS activists reacted to the plan with skepticism. 

Metro Atlanta has the third-highest rate of new HIV infections in the U.S., according to the CDC. Some $500,000 in the city's new budget will be dedicated to fighting the infection. Some $100,000 from the previous year's budget went toward a PrEP project.

But HIV/AIDS activists said that Atlanta's HIV housing program is in "crisis," with the city failing to pay multiple agencies the federal funds that were allocated for them. A dispute between the city and one housing organization has left some 250 city residents living with HIV on the verge of losing their homes.