Fulton restructures HIV program to end epidemic by 2030

The Fulton County Board of Commissioners has established the Fulton County Department for HIV Elimination to develop a metro Atlanta plan to end the epidemic. 

The new department is an expansion of the Ryan White Program, a federally-funded program run by the Fulton Board of Health that provides care for low-income, uninsured and underinsured people living with HIV in Atlanta.

“The new name speaks to our ultimate goal of eliminating new cases of HIV by 2030, and aligns with the county’s strategic effort that ‘All People Are Healthy,’” Fulton Chairman Robb Pitts said in a press release. “Fulton County will continue to take a leadership role in efforts to end new cases of HIV.”

The Ryan White Program will still be a central part of the department despite the name change, according to Jeff Cheek, director of the Fulton Department for HIV Elimination. 

“While the name of the department has changed to reflect a more aspirational goal of eliminating HIV, the Ryan White Program remains the lynchpin of the department and is one of three divisions in the department,” Cheek (photo) told Project Q Atlanta. “The Ryan White Program will continue to administer Ryan White grant funds on behalf of the 20-county metropolitan area.”

A new division in the department will focus on the federal plan announced by President Donald Trump in February that would end HIV in the U.S. by 2030. Fulton, Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett Counties are targeted as part of that plan. 

A third division of the Department for HIV Elimination will focus on Fulton’s efforts to end HIV.  A task force to develop a strategy to end HIV in the county was created in December 2014. They presented their findings in August 2017, but the Fulton Board of Commissioners failed to establish a permanent advisory committee to implement that plan until October 2018. The Fulton County HIV/AIDS Prevention, Care & Policy Committee now meets periodically.

The Department for HIV Elimination will use the Fulton strategy to help develop a regional strategy to end HIV in metro Atlanta, according to Cheek.

“The Strategy to End HIV/AIDS in Fulton County provided a number of goals, objectives, and strategies that primarily focused on what government can do. The next step is to begin the community planning process to see what progress has been made since the plan was completed, look at the gaps that exist, and see how these gaps can be addressed by the business, faith and educational communities in addition to government,” he said. 

“There is a great deal of community excitement surrounding the planning process which should be kicking off in the next couple of months,” he added.

Grant funds dating app project

 

Fulton’s Ryan White Program was one of 10 programs in the U.S. that received a portion of a $1 million grant from the U.S. Health Resources & Services Administration in June. 

Fulton’s program received $100,000 for 2019 and will receive another $100,000 in 2020. The county will use the money to partner with THRIVE SS on a new initiative targeting gay and bisexual African-American men, according to Cheek.

“This new project will be to connect men who visit certain social media sites — Adam for Adam, Tinder, Grinder, etc. — with THRIVE SS who will help them access HIV services or PrEP,” he said.

The Fulton Department for HIV Elimination will also partner with the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

“In August, the Board of Commissioners will consider a memorandum of understanding which memorializes this new relationship and our aligned commitment to end discrimination against people affected by HIV and to address inequalities by race, gender, age, location and other factors that affect access to health care, education, and social services,” Cheek said.

The Elton John AIDS Foundation contributed $250,000 to the City of Atlanta in June to fight HIV, making good on a pledge to match whatever HIV funds were included in the city budget.

The Fulton Board of Commissioners included $670,000 in its county budget to fight HIV in February. The money will fund nine new healthcare specialists and expand the availability of PrEP.

The Atlanta City Council approved a $100,000 PrEP project in May that will go to hiring two part-time nurses to provide PrEP services in the Fulton Board of Health’s mobile HIV testing clinics, as well as provide PrEP education and support to primary care providers, Grady Health clinics and hospitals.

Fulton has the second highest rate of new HIV diagnoses in the country in counties with 100,000 people or more, according to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention.

Photo courtesy Jeff Cheek