Just one month ago, AID Atlanta was recognized by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for its strong track record providing needed services to thousands of metro Atlantans living with HIV/AIDS.
It was confirmation that AID Atlanta’s prevention/intervention programs were making a difference.
And so when the nonprofit, which has been receiving CDC funds for the past 14 years, applied again for funding to continue those efforts through 2022, it was certain the CDC would oblige.
That, though, didn’t happen.
In an about-face delivered via U.S. mail late last month, the CDC notified AID Atlanta that it had denied its request but gave no explanation.
“It was baffling,” said AID Atlanta spokesman Imara Canady.
According to its own statistics, there are 15,000 people in metro Atlanta who are living with HIV but don’t know their status; there has been an almost 90 percent increase of new HIV infections in the African-American community alone, again predominantly gay and bisexual men, ages 13-24; one in two gay black men will be impacted by HIV in their lifetime; Georgia ranks fifth in the nation for new HIV infections and, in metro Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb counties rank No. 1 and 2, respectively, in the state.
If you’re wondering why you should care about the funding or lack thereof, there it is.
With Atlanta consistently ranking among U.S. cities reporting the highest new rates of HIV infections, especially in communities of color, ending funding is not only unconscionable, it promises to cripple the agency’s ability to reach that population with the same effectiveness.
So why would the CDC do such a thing?
CDC spokesman Paul Fulton said that community-based organizations like AID Atlanta have been vital to the nation’s HIV prevention efforts and the agency values its partnerships with them.
Because of limited funding, Fulton said, the CDC had to make some tough choices. Awards went to the Atlanta HARM Reduction Coalition and Someone Cares.
But not to AID Atlanta, the nonprofit it had just given kudos for its fight against the epidemic in the community hit hardest by HIV/AIDS.
“It’s critical to remember that this funding is just one piece of our HIV prevention efforts,” Fulton said. “CDC provided the Atlanta area and the state of Georgia with millions in HIV prevention program and surveillance funding, including $2.8 million for community-based organizations in 2016. CDC also provided nearly $19 million in resources to Georgia and Fulton County to support HIV prevention programs and surveillance activities.”
The agency has remained mum about its rejection of AID Atlanta even in the face of protests Friday that drew close to 100 AID Atlanta supporters to its headquarters on Clifton Road.
On Sunday, AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the parent organization of AID Atlanta, took out a full-page ad in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to make the community aware of the CDC decision and demand an explanation. On Monday, it launched radio spots on V-103 and KISS 104.1.
The funding would’ve enabled AID Atlanta to continue its community-based programs and initiatives, which focused on prevention and testing on black gay and bisexual men, ages 18-28, the very community the CDC has said is most impacted by the HIV epidemic. Without it, officials had to make the hard decision to immediate halt the Evolution program and lay off its four staff members.
“That’s the sad part and the CDC is still yet to say why to AID Atlanta,” Canady said.
If he had to venture a guess, Canady said it’s simple.
“My honest answer is the CDC is playing politics,” he said. “There’s no other explanation.”
Asked what he’d like the CDC to do, Canady said he’d first like an explanation for the agency’s decision to defund AID Atlanta and other community-based organizations that have a history of doing impactful work addressing HIV. Second, he’d like the CDC to expand its funding decision to allow organizations that are doing the work to get the critical funds they need to continue having an impact.
And he’d like the rest of us, the taxpayers, to hold elected officials and public servants accountable for their actions.
This isn’t just about AID Atlanta, he said. “It is about being the voice for the voiceless and literally saving people’s lives.”