It was a shocking news story the other day from an Atlanta television station, and an equally disturbing headline on its website: “Atlanta’s HIV ‘Epidemic’ Compared to Third World African Countries.” Further reflect on what the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control (CDC) says: If you live in southeast part of the country, you are more likely to be diagnosed with HIV than any other part of the United States.
In Georgia, risk of diagnosis is one in every 51 people. And there are approximately more than 35,402 people living with HIV in Atlanta. The WSB-TV report by Dave Huddleston dug deeper:
“Downtown Atlanta is as bad as Zimbabwe or Harare or Durban,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, co-director of Emory University’s Center for AIDS Research. Del Rio said the disease shifted from one that mainly affected gay men and drug users in the late 1980s to a disease that now affects just about every population, but in particular African-Americans with limited access to health care. “Don’t have food on your table, have kids to take care of and somebody says you have HIV, that’s just another, that’s just another problem that you have,” del Rio said. Then there’s another problem: A lack of leadership and mismanagement in populous Fulton County, where the city of Atlanta is mainly located. A 2015 Fulton County internal audit of its HIV Prevention Program cited poor management after the county squandered millions of CDC grant dollars meant for HIV programs. Ultimately the county had to return millions to the CDC. (“Well it certainly was a bruised eye,” then-Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves admitted at the time.) In the aftermath of that debacle, the County Commission asked for audits of the dysfunctional Health Department and demanded changes in procedures.
A recent study released by the CDC shows why that funding is so critical, the WSB-TV report noted. “We should not be having an epidemic of that proportion in a country like ours,” del Rio was again quoted as saying. “This is not Africa, we have resources.” Indeed, the report noted that Fulton County now has a new public health director and HIV programs like mobile testing units that are more visible around Atlanta and the county. A van travels to ZIP codes with the highest number of HIV cases.
But the CDC, as well as Atlanta and Fulton County officials that InsiderAdvantage has interviewed, worries that the battle against this underreported epidemic is far from won.