AID Atlanta filed suit Thursday against the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention claiming the federal agency’s decision to defund it threatens the delivery of HIV testing and prevention services to the community most at risk of getting the deadly virus — young, black gay and bisexual men.
The suit, filed in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia, comes less than a month after AIDS Healthcare Foundation, the parent organization of AID Atlanta, took out a full-page ad in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and later launched radio spots on V-103 and KISS 104.1 to demand an explanation for the CDC’s decision.
The funding would have enabled AID Atlanta, one of the area’s oldest and largest HIV/AIDS service organizations, to continue its community-based programs and initiatives focusing on prevention and testing among black gay and bisexual men, ages 18-28. AID Atlanta immediately halted the Evolution program, which focused on this target population, and laid off four staff members.
CDC spokesman Paul Fulton said Friday the agency does not comment on pending litigation.
“We can tell you that CDC follows a rigorous and highly competitive process for issuing new funding opportunities,” he said. “Applications are scored and ranked based on an objective review of the applicant’s proposed plans for delivery of services and the organization’s capacity to carry out the proposed activities.”
In an exclusive interview, Imara Canady, spokesperson for AID Atlanta, said the community has come to rely on AID Atlanta and “the impactful work that we have continued to grow over time.”
“Already we are seeing that the absence of having this prevention program in place, focused on this targeted, highly impacted audience has created a huge void in the prevention work within the metropolitan Atlanta community,” Canady said. “We are hopeful that the CDC will hear the rally cry of the community, and reconsider its decision to provide the much-needed funding to all those organizations.”
In its lawsuit, AID Atlanta filed motions for, among other things, damages and injunctive relief against the CDC. The agency also wants the court to overturn the CDC decision to deny the grant awards.
Specifically, AID Atlanta asserts in its lawsuit that the CDC “mismanaged a critical funding opportunity and impermissibly denied funding to a long-standing partner fighting HIV/AIDS in metro Atlanta.”
Nicole Roebuck, AID Atlanta’s executive director, said the CDC has awarded the agency at least five long-term cooperative agreements for HIV prevention programs through which it has provided HIV testing, education and prevention since 2004.
“Most recently, AID Atlanta acted as a trusted and highly regarded partner with the CDC under a six-year agreement, operating HIV prevention projects targeting young men of color who have sex with men,” Roebuck said in a press release. “At no time during this period has the CDC expressed any concerns or criticisms of AID Atlanta’s HIV prevention programs or its abilities to manage such programs and federal resources. We are quite frankly perplexed by the CDC’s actions here.”
The agency had submitted an application to receive high-impact HIV prevention funds to replace CDC grants that were scheduled to end on March 31. As the March 31 expiration approached, Roebuck said AID Atlanta applied for this new funding, hosted site visits by CDC officials as part of the application process, but was ultimately denied renewal of its HIV prevention and testing services contract.
“We will vigorously advocate to restore this funding to AID Atlanta in order to continue to provide these critical services to the clients and patients AID Atlanta serves,” Roebuck said.
Failure to renew AID Atlanta’s contract for HIV testing and prevention services comes at a time when the influx of new HIV/AIDS diagnosis is on the rise in Atlanta. The CDC’s own statistics indicate the metro Atlanta area ranks fifth in the nation for reported new HIV infection cases, and the city’s HIV/AIDS epidemic has been compared to the epidemic in some Third World countries.