HIV/AIDS in Atlanta: Inequities continue in accessibility of treatment and prevention 

HIV/AIDS in Atlanta: Inequities continue in accessibility of treatment and prevention 
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Despite strides made to provide access to affordable healthcare across class and racial lines in the decades since the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, Atlantans faces serious obstacles to HIV and AIDS treatment and prevention, according to a local expert.

Carlos Saldana, assistant professor of medicine at Emory University, said there has been a long-term staffing issue in crucial public roles at the state level, including a year-plus vacancy for the position of Georgia’s HIV program director.

“Additionally, there are significant challenges in hiring key staff such as disease specialists and linkage coordinators in local health departments,” Saldana said. 

Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) state that the Atlanta metro area had the third highest new HIV Diagnoses with 1,562 new cases, they follow Miami and Memphis. 

Saldana attributes the rise of AIDS in Georgia to a lack of structured leadership, inequities in outreach and accessibility, stigma, a lack of awareness of the effectiveness of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), and substance-use disorders like cocaine and methamphetamines complicating the management of HIV and possibly directly affecting its transmission. 

This story is from a special collaboration between SCAD and Rough Draft Atlanta. To read more stories from SCAD students, visit our SCAD x Rough Draft hub.

Metro Atlanta accounts for more than half of the 2,371 cases reported in Georgia. In these numbers, Black women accounted for half of the new HIV infections among women while Black and Hispanic men made up for most of the new infections compared to their white counterparts. With the cost of treatment and prevention medication remaining high, the minority demographic remains at risk. Expansion of services to the south of I-20 could help decrease the numbers significantly.

Enhanced collaboration between public health organizations, community-based organizations, and academic institutions is essential in lending a helping hand to create solutions, said Saldana. 

“Increasing investment in the recruitment and retention of public health staff is necessary,” he said. “This includes a focus on specialists in HIV and infectious diseases, such as medical doctors, physician assistants, and nurse practitioners, to ensure a robust response to public health needs.”

Saldana also said expanding access to Medicaid would help improve access to healthcare services for marginalized communities, which might reduce their vulnerability to HIV.

An article in Georgia Budget and Policy Institute shared a similar sentiment. 

“If Georgia fully expanded Medicaid, the largest reductions in uninsurance rates would be among Black Georgians; young Georgians ages 19-34 years old; Georgians who did not complete high school; and in counties in the southern and western parts of the state,” reads the article. 

Saldana said that HIV and STI testing kits are available free of charge at Stop HIV ATL also provides other services such as testing, information on PrEP, HIV, and finding access to it in your county. 

Aids HealthCare Foundation (AHF) has over 11 locations spread through the Atlanta area. They are a global non-profit organization aiming to rid the world of AIDS through a network of healthcare contracts, pharmacies, and other partnerships. They offer services such as healthcare, the AHF pharmacy, housing, and advocacy through several other programs. AHF’s care services help connect people with HIV with access to specialists and treatments they need to live a happier and healthier life for themselves and those around them. 

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