Georgia health agency wants to expand PrEP pilot program

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The Georgia Department of Public Health wants $230,000 written into the state budget. The funds would expand a pilot program providing PrEP to those at risk of contracting HIV and to restore two positions dedicated to fighting HIV.

GDPH Commissioner Kathleen Toomey requested the funds during a House Appropriations Health Subcommittee meeting on Feb. 16. The money would be part of the state budget for fiscal year 2022, which starts in July.

The PrEP program got $57,350 for its first-year launch in Fulton and Towns Counties. Toomey requested $85,650 to fund the program’s second year – a 50 percent increase. The funding boost would expand the program to other counties, Toomey said.

“We were very happy about this opportunity to demonstrate the effectiveness of PrEP … and several other counties in North Georgia including Stephens and Hall are likely to be additional rollout sites,” she said.

Toomey also asked for $144,000 to restore two positions at the department focused on fighting HIV. Budget cuts for 2021 eliminated the jobs.

“This $144,026 is just a restoration of those funds for those positions, which are needed to continue with the program,” she said.

In 2019, Georgia lawmakers created the three-year program to provide PrEP to people in counties identified by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention as at risk of HIV outbreaks due to a high rate of opioid use. PrEP is a once-a-day pill taken by HIV-negative people to reduce the risk of infection. PrEP reduces the risk of HIV infection by up to 92 percent, according to the CDC.

State Rep. Park Cannon, a Democrat from Atlanta, said she’s excited about the prospect of the program expanding. Cannon, one of seven openly LGBTQ members of the legislature, was an integral part of passing the 2019 legislation that created the pilot program.

“We are ready to scale up in our efforts to end HIV in 2022 by expanding the PrEP program,” she told Project Q Atlanta. “With [End the Epidemic] plans citing 2025, 2030 and beyond, the time is now for Georgia to plan and act. This will mean that our communities receive the healthcare they deserve.”

Earlier this month, Gov. Brian Kemp signed an amended 2021 fiscal year budget that props up the AIDS Drug Assistance Program. Lawmakers added $15.44 million to ADAP’s budget to avoid creating a waiting list for the program, which helps low-income people living with HIV.

Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett – which have some of the highest rates of new HIV infections in the nation – are targeted as part of a federal plan to end HIV/AIDS by 2030. Fulton also has its own effort to end the epidemic by 2030.

Georgia has the highest rate of new HIV diagnoses in the U.S., according to the CDC.

This story is made possible by a grant from Google News Initiative’s Journalism Emergency Relief Fund.

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