Dan Williams, program officer
Today is World AIDS Day. It is hard to believe that it’s the 29th anniversary of the day that we pause to lend support to people living with HIV and to remember those who have died from AIDS. Of course, over 29 years, we have seen great progress in the fight against HIV, including the development of antiretroviral therapy that controls the growth of the virus, improves how well a person’s immune system works and slows or stops symptoms of the disease.
Anniversaries typically celebrate an event. But for Southern states there’s little to celebrate on this year’s anniversary of World AIDS Day. Southern states account for an estimated 44 percent of all people living with an HIV diagnosis in the U.S., despite having just 37 percent of the overall U.S. population.
Fulfilling our mission to provide innovative leadership on pressing issues in our region, we joined the fight against HIV/AIDS 37 years ago through funding for nonprofits working to care for those that are affected by this chronic disease. In 2017, the Foundation awarded $355,000 to nonprofits through its General Operating Support grant program.
Today, Funders Concerned About AIDS (FCAA) announced $419,000 in additional funding for HIV/AIDS service agencies in metro Atlanta. The Southern HIV Impact Fund is a collaborative of funders convened by FCAA. The collaborative, which includes Gilead Sciences, Ford Foundation, Elton John AIDS Foundation, ViiV Healthcare, and Johnson & Johnson, is working jointly to leverage their collective efforts to promote a more coordinated and effective response to the disproportionate impact of HIV in the South. The Fund is being administered by AIDS United. The Community Foundation has a staff member who serves on the FCAA Board of Directors. These grants will amplify the Community Foundation’s HIV/AIDS funding in 2017, bringing the total to $774,000 dedicated to our region.
Georgia continues to experience a heavy burden of HIV infection, illness and deaths, and we lag behind in providing quality HIV prevention and care to residents. Consider these 2015 Georgia facts (the most current data available). Georgia ranked fifth highest in the nation for total number of adults and adolescents living with HIV in 2015. The total number of Georgians living with HIV was 54,754. Of these, 53 percent had stage three disease, or AIDS.
The majority of HIV diagnoses occurred in urban areas. Fulton and DeKalb counties had the highest numbers and rates of persons living with HIV in our state. Nearly two thirds of persons living with HIV in 2015 resided in the Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA).
HIV diagnosis rates for people in the South were higher than for Americans overall. Georgia was fifth-highest in the nation for the total number of new diagnoses of HIV during 2015 with 2,741 new HIV diagnoses. Eighty one percent of those diagnosed were male and 19 percent were female. Six transgender persons were diagnosed with HIV. The highest number of new HIV diagnoses occurred among males 20-29 years old. The most frightening impact is on African Americans who are severely affected by HIV, accounting for 72 percent of new diagnoses of HIV in Georgia.
Since the advent of antiretroviral therapy in the mid-1990s, deaths due to AIDS have declined substantially.
Early detection and treatment are the keys to saving lives. A newly-released Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report found that half of those diagnosed with HIV in 2015 had been infected for at least three years. Some groups, like heterosexual men and racial and ethnic minorities, live with HIV longer than other groups before they are diagnosed. People who are diagnosed early and take medications to control HIV are significantly less likely to spread the disease. The CDC estimates that about 40 percent of new HIV infections are caused by people who did not know they were infected. The bottom line – it’s important people take the time to be tested.
Access to health coverage also has a great impact on early diagnosis and treatment for HIV and AIDS. Georgia is one of four states with the highest proportion of people without health insurance in the South (17.5 percent). Failure to adopt Medicaid expansion has resulted in thousands of individuals living with HIV remaining uninsured and dependent on the overburdened, federal Ryan White program for basic HIV health services.
Today’s anniversary will pass and we’ll move on to other issues. However, before World AIDS Day comes again, I hope we see progress in fighting HIV and AIDS in metro Atlanta and Georgia. It will take time to see movement on those terrible statistics, but there are five simple steps we can take personally to make a difference.
- Strengthen HIV education and awareness. Become an advocate and share information with others.
- Continue conversation about HIV/AIDS. It’s time we forget the stigma associated with this disease.
- Promote protection. Condoms offer life-saving protection and there are new drugs like PrEP for people at highest risk of HIV infection.
- Improve early diagnosis of acute HIV infection. Get tested regularly to detect the possibility of HIV and seek treatment to control this chronic disease.
- Get involved. Find an HIV/AIDS service organization in the community and support it with your time, talents and financial contributions.
1 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). HIV Surveillance Report, 2014; vol. 26. Available at http://www.cdc.gov/hiv/library/reports/surveillance/
2 U.S. Census Bureau. Annual Estimates of the Resident Population: April 1, 2010 to July 1, 2014. Available at http://factfinde.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=PEP_2014_ PEPANNRES&src=pt
3 Georgia Department of Public Health. HIV Surveillance Fact Sheet, Georgia 2015. Available at https://dph.georgia.gov/sites/dph.georgia.gov/files/HIV_EPI_Fact%20Sheet_Georgia%202015_04.14.17.pdf
4 CNBC. US HIV diagnoses improving, but progress varies, CDC says. Available at https://www.cnbc.com/2017/11/28/us-hiv-diagnoses-improving-but-progress-varies-cdc-says.html