Combatting HIV in the South faces steeper odds than other places. The death rate is higher and fewer people know their status. But an advocacy group just dished out $1.4 million to challenge HIV across the region.

AIDS United awarded $1.4 million in grants to 21 organizations across nine states in the South – Georgia, Texas, Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina and Tennessee – to develop local policies and build local leadership and grassroots efforts to combat the disease. The groups that received the grants are already making a difference; AIDS United hopes the grants further energize their efforts in voter mobilization, expanding legal services to battle housing and employment discrimination, and fighting HIV criminalization laws.

The grants are part of AIDS United's Southern REACH Initiative:

The AIDS United Southern REACH Initiative (Regional Expansion of Access and Capacity to Address HIV/AIDS) shapes effective policies and builds capacity among local organizations to directly challenge HIV in the South and the disparities and social injustices that further fuel the epidemic. Building on the strengths of local leadership and community-based organizations, the initiative supports targeted policy and advocacy efforts driven by and for people affected by HIV in the South through strategic grants, technical assistance and by creating a network of advocates dedicated to the cause. Managed by AIDS United, this work in the South has been generously supported by the Ford Foundation for 10 years.

The grants are an effort to disrupt the disparities seen in HIV treatment and testing seen across the South, which the Centers of Disease Control & Prevention pointed to last month.

“The HIV epidemic and its associated disparities will continue to rage on until we harness the political will needed to challenge and then change the policies that fuel it. And that’s exactly what Southern REACH grantees are doing,” Michael Kaplan, AIDS United president and CEO, said in a prepared statement. 

“We are so thankful for the Ford Foundation’s leadership and unparalleled support for ending the HIV epidemic and promoting human dignity throughout the region," Kaplan added.

In Georgia, AIDS United awarded $336,500 to five non-profits in metro Atlanta – Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition ($76,000), Counter Narrative Project ($50,000), Equality Foundation of Georgia ($63,000), SisterLove ($100,000) and Southerners On New Ground ($47,500).

AHRC will use the funding to further its syringe exchange and needle stick prevention efforts. The Equality Foundation, which facilitates the work of the Georgia HIV Advocacy Network, will develop and put in place a plan to end AIDS in Fulton County. SisterLove will train organizations in trauma-informed care for women and youth living with and at high risk for HIV. SONG wants to host a fellowship program to train LGBT leaders on issues of poverty, criminalization, healthcare and racism that impact trans and non-gender conforming people and people affected by HIV.

In Texas, $186,000 was awarded to three organizations – Legacy Community Health in Houston ($50,000), Cardea Services in Austin ($71,000) and Valley AIDS Council in Harlingen ($65,000).

Legacy will use the funds to develop an end of AIDS plan in Houston that will provide specific actions, funding and implementation, according to AIDS United.

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