“We don’t yet know the specifics of how this new funding will be used, but we do know it will be used for what AIDS experts call ‘test and treat’ — reaching out to people who might be infected, getting them tested and, if they’re HIV-positive, getting them into treatment as soon as possible,” said Logan Boss, public information officer for Northwest Georgia Public Health. “This is a big change. For a long time in the world of HIV and AIDS, conventional wisdom has been to delay treatment until people show signs of damage to their immune system.
“Partly, this has been because the drugs have side effects, although some are now easier to take, and partly because few people thought medical treatment itself could slow the spread of HIV. The thinking now, based on recent research findings, is that if we can find everybody with HIV, link them to care, make sure they are getting treatment and doing well, we can make a huge dent in this epidemic.”
Excited to see funding being earmarked for this purpose, Lola Thomas — executive director of the AIDS Alliance of Northwest Georgia, — is cautiously optimistic that the money will reach the counties covered by Northwest Georgia Public Health. Along with increasing an HIV-positive person’s quality of life, she said early treatment also helps stop the spread of the virus.
“When people become infected with HIV, the amount of virus in their blood impacts how infectious they are to other people,” Thomas said. “So this new approach is an effort to identify people who are HIV positive, get the viral load low, which means they are then less likely to infect someone else with a virus. So it’s a fabulous plan to try to do this. The approach is great. We’re very excited about it, [but] whether any of this money will trickle down to those of us in outlying health districts is a question that remains unanswered.
“In addition to what they’re doing with this, an effort is under way to put the money for HIV testing in areas where they know the percentages would show that there are more HIV-positive people living and that would be, of course, in the metro counties — the main ones in Atlanta. So ... [that might] hold true here too. We don’t know what they’ll do with this money but I’m hopeful that we’ll see some of this money so that we can provide HIV testing in this public health district. But that is a little more of a long shot for us because being in a rural setting, the dollars just don’t flow to us like they do to metro counties — the big metro counties. So I’m excited about it but I don’t get my hopes up too terribly much because we may not see any of the money.”
Based in Cartersville, the AIDS Alliance assists about 115 HIV/AIDS clients in 10 northwest Georgia counties. Along with offering HIV and AIDS education and prevention, the nonprofit also provides services to its clients, such as a housing program and transportation to doctors’ appointments. At its office — 1 Friendship Plaza, on the third floor of the downtown Train Depot — the AIDS Alliance administers free oral HIV tests each Tuesday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
For more information about the AIDS Alliance, visit www.aanwg.org or call 770-606-0953.