Metro Atlanta counties awarded $3.3 million to fight HIV

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An agency working to end HIV in four metro Atlanta counties received a $3.3 million award from federal health officials – a 40 percent jump over last year’s funding.

The Fulton County Department for HIV Elimination received the award from the Health Resources & Service Administration – an arm of the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services – in March. The county agency will soon ask for the public’s help in deciding how to spend the funds.

“I’m excited,” Jeff Cheek, director of the Fulton Department for HIV Elimination, told Project Q Atlanta.

The $3.3 million award was part of $99 million distributed to 61 recipients as part of a federal initiative to end HIV in the U.S. Atlanta received the third-largest award behind New York City and Los Angeles.

Cheek’s department manages Atlanta’s Ryan White Program, a federally funded program providing care for low-income, uninsured and underinsured people living with HIV. The department serves Fulton, Cobb, DeKalb and Gwinnett, which are the four metro Atlanta counties among the 48 counties in the U.S. targeted in the federal Ending the HIV Epidemic (EHE) initiative.

The goal of the initiative is a 75 percent reduction in new HIV cases by 2025 and a 90 percent reduction by 2030, according to Tiffany Lawrence, manager of Fulton’s EHE program.

“These new funds are going to be used to design disruptive innovation projects to go into our care system to change the way that we respond to service needs,” she told Fulton County Government Television (watch below).

The Ryan White Program is crucial to ending HIV in the U.S., according to HRSA Acting Administrator Diana Espinosa.

“Today’s investment builds on the more than $2 billion in grants awarded through the Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program in fiscal year 2020, which helps to continue the program’s incredible track record of viral suppression that saves lives, reduces health disparities and slows the spread of the virus,” Espinosa said in a press release.

$1 million unspent from 2020 award

About half of the $2 million awarded last year remains unspent. Cheek told Project Q that the department didn’t have enough community input to decide how to spend the funds.

The agency has until March 2022 to spend the remaining $1 million from last year, and it cannot be carried over again, according to Cheek. They must also spend the new $3.3 million by then, but any unspent funds can carry over an additional year.

“This is not only last year’s award but also a 40 percent increase,” Cheek said. “So we have the dollars and we can go now, it’s just understanding how people want us to use the dollars that’s key.”

The Fulton Department for HIV Elimination hosts virtual public engagement sessions later this month to narrow down programs to fund with the award.

“Once the community says this is what we want to spend the money on, the county has a procurement process we have to go through to advertise those dollars so that community organizations can apply for those dollars, and that’s what will occur in early June,” Cheek said.

The first session takes place April 14 at 6:30 p.m. and will be led by a Black HIV service organization and a Black clinician. The HIV epidemic disproportionately affects people of color.

“They’re going to lead it, and we’re just going to listen, so it really is going to be a community thing,” Cheek said.

One of the programs Cheek looks forward to continuing is hormone replacement therapy for transgender people with HIV. The department launched the effort with last year’s EHE award.

“What science has shown is by making hormones available, you have a greater chance of getting people into care, and once they’re in care they’ll start their antiretrovirals and get immunosuppressed,” Cheek said. “I’m really excited we’re doing something especially targeting people of trans experience.”

Cheek said last year’s funds also expanded operating hours to nights and weekends at the sites it funds, including Positive Impact Health Centers and Grady Health System’s Ponce de Leon Center, and created telehealth options and a targeted outreach project with the Greater Than AIDS campaign.

“What we saw was even though we have a comprehensive system of care, it’s only helpful if people know that it exists,” Cheek said. “We wanted to do something that talks about what our programs are and how to get into care.”

The department also launched a system to electronically house and share medical documents for clients to be shared among different agencies. The agency is creating a portal so clients can view lab results and receive reminders to take their medications.

For more information on future community engagement sessions, visit www.ryanwhiteatl.org, call the Fulton Department for HIV Elimination at 404-612-8285 or Tiffany Lawrence at 404-612-5219.

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

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