- Arielle Kass The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Members of a Fulton County task force formed to battle HIV transmission will ask county commissioners for both monetary and policy help to meet their goals of eliminating new cases locally.
The task force has requested additional staffing at the county’s public health department, that inmates are given access to condoms at the Fulton jail and that a syringe exchange program is created to help stop the spread of the disease. They also want all Fulton County health services, including at the jail, to provide HIV tests for everyone who comes in the door.
Task force members also called on county commissioners to support a request from Grady Health System for a $165 million expansion that includes the modernization of the Ponce de Leon AIDS treatment center.
“Many of the recommendations are very, very doable,” Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves said Monday, after task force members presented him with the list of their requests. “I’m very much encouraged.”
The proposals would expand HIV testing and access to pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, a drug that can prevent high-risk people from contracting HIV. They would also pay for patient navigators, to help those who receive a new diagnosis get access to care.
Not including the treatment center expansion, implementing the recommendations would cost about $800,000, said Melanie Thompson, chair of the prevention and care committee on the HIV/AIDS task force. Thompson said she was concerned that, because the county decided to freeze property assessments at 2016 values, Fulton would not have the money to pay for more employees.
“It’s a communicable disease,” Thompson said. “If it’s not controlled, it’s a public health problem.”
In addition to money, the task force is also asking Fulton leaders to help change the state’s out-of-date laws that criminalize HIV-positive people for having sex without telling their partners about the disease, even if they have suppressed the virus. They want support creating a legal syringe exchange program to prevent HIV and other blood-borne diseases.
Thompson said the county has already taken several steps to help reduce the spread of HIV. She praised the “political will” that allowed the creation of the task force, which in August will become a permanent advisory board. The next step, she said, is to look outside Fulton.
“This is a regional problem,” she said. “We need a regional group that will look at all of metro Atlanta.”