AID Atlanta facing debt
Teams up with controversial national group
By DYANA BAGBY
Atlanta and national HIV/AIDS activists are denouncing the decision of AID Atlanta to become an affiliate with the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, led by the controversial figure Michael Weinstein.
AID Atlanta announced the decision to “join forces” with AHF on June 19; almost immediately there was backlash from local HIV activists who took to social media to criticize the move. No local activists would go on the record with Georgia Voice, however.
AID Atlanta boasts a $7.6 million annual budget. Its main sites are in Midtown Atlanta and a clinic in Newnan, Georgia. AHF also has a clinic in Lithonia, Georgia.
Controversy surrounding AIDS Healthcare Foundation and PrEP
AHF’s controversial stance on pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, angers many HIV activists. PrEP, distributed as a pill known as Truvada, can reduce the risk of contracting HIV up to 92 percent when taken consistently.
AHF’s president, Michael Weinstein, has called PrEP a “party drug,” alleging that gay and bisexual men would only use the pill as a way to tell themselves it was OK to have casual and anonymous sex.
James Hughey, Interim CEO of AID Atlanta, said, as he understands it, Weinstein is not opposed to PrEP, and he pointed to an editorial ad AHF placed in several LGBT newspapers this month as part of a new campaign.
“What did you get from that that says he does not support PrEP?” Hughey asked the Georgia Voice.
Hughey then said AID Atlanta has a grant with Gilead—a one-year, $79,000 grant that began in March—to issue PrEP. But, he added, PrEP is not being readily prescribed in metro Atlanta because of the high costs associated with it. Currently AID Atlanta, which boasts serving 5,000 people annually, has 14 patients taking Truvada.
“If you look at PrEP in the community, patients don’t have the ability to pay. There is little use of PrEP. It is difficult to pay for, including the physicians and labs. I hope we can bring that into the discussion—how do we pay for it? I don’t hear that in any dialogue.”
—James Hughey, Interim CEO of AID Atlanta
“If you look at PrEP in the community, patients don’t have the ability to pay. There is little use of PrEP. It is difficult to pay for, including the physicians and labs. I hope we can bring that into the discussion—how do we pay for it?” he said. “I don’t hear that in any dialogue.”
But does Hughey believe in removing all barriers to getting PrEP into the hands of those who want it?
“Yes, with the caveat that the decision as to whether to take PrEP is always one that should be made between a patient and his or her provider,” Hughey answered.
Does Hughey believe PrEP is not cost effective at all?
“The point I was trying to make is relat- ed to people that do not have insurance or the ability to pay,” he said. “It is difficult for AID Atlanta to provide free PrEP without having a means to cover the physician and lab costs even with free medication. For insured patients we can see patients and prescribe PrEP for those patients, when appropriate. We will continue doing this for the community, as appropriate.”
At Pride Medical, a for-profit agency, there are more than 150 patients taking Truvada.
“Since the FDA approval [of PrEP], every person who has come to Pride Medical to get on Truvada for PrEP has had their insurance company pay for it or Gilead has given them the medication for free,” said Lee Anisman, former CEO of Pride Medical and one of the Pride Medical patients taking PrEP.
“Quite a few people are talking about that comment Hughey made [about PrEP cost effectiveness]. Very progressive states such as New York and California have been very proactive in setting up programs to get the residents who are at high risk for infection on PrEP. It’s an undisputed fact that people who are compliant with their PrEP regimen are over 92 percent less likely to contract HIV. Studies done by the CDC show that condoms are less than 70 percent effective when used correctly and consistently. I am an advocate of condoms and PrEP, which gives close to 100 percent protection,” Anisman said.
Mark King, a former staff member of AID Atlanta and a longtime HIV activist now living in Baltimore, has written about AHF’s troublesome stance on PrEP at his blog, My Fabulous Disease. He told the Georgia Voice he was very disturbed by this new relationship and issued a statement.
“AHF’s campaign of misinformation around PrEP makes them the most dangerous entity in the HIV arena right now. Their stubborn denial of the scientific proof that pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) has now been proven marvelously effective has made them outliers and outcasts in the prevention arena,” King said. “Now that they have swallowed up AID Atlanta, you can expect to see the same misinformation in Atlanta. And that is a frightening prospect indeed, considering the high rates of HIV infection and the urgent need for prevention tools such as PrEP.”
Atlanta is ranked No. 5 among U.S. cities for new HIV infections with Georgia ranking in also at No. 5 as the state with the most new HIV infections.
Hughey said AID Atlanta would continue to prescribe PrEP if it was in the best interest of the patient.
“What I am really clear on is if a physician and patient agree this is the best for the patient, then we will prescribe PrEP. But the money there is limited, regardless of wanting to do more,” he said.
AID Atlanta faced ‘significant debt’
Hughey said AHF was one of numerous organizations he spoke to when it was decided the Atlanta-based AIDS service orga-
nization needed to team up with another in order to remain sustainable.
“Significant debt” was one reason AID Atlanta sought to become an affiliate of AHF, Hughey acknowledged in an interview with Georgia Voice, but he declined to use exact numbers.
“We are in a good position and will still need to strengthen our donor base to increase the people we serve in the Atlanta and Newnan communities,” Hughey said. AHF did not assume all of AID Atlanta’s debt.
Hughey, who came on board to head AID Atlanta in February after the resignation of Jose Diaz, said AID Atlanta had strayed from its mission and he feels AHF is the “solid partner” it needs to return focus to the mission of serving HIV/AIDS clients in the metro Atlanta region.
“I’ve met with as many community leaders as I can, I’ve met with every one of our 21 grantors, and each and every one is in support of this. I think this is a great opportunity for us to be a solid anchor,” he said.
Hughey stressed that AID Atlanta would remain AID Atlanta and AHF would not be taking over any services, such as HIV testing. AID Atlanta is one of several affiliates that are part of what is called the AHF Federation. Other affiliates include: AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland; WORLD (Women Organized to Respond to Life-threatening Diseases) in Oakland, California; AIDS Center of Queens County in New York; South Side Help Center in Chicago; Island Coast AIDS Network (ICAN) in Florida; and the Impulse Group, an international volunteer group.
“AHF is not taking over anything to my understanding, and I have a clear understanding. What we are is an affiliate. What AHF wants is to get people tested, linked to care and into care. We will still be AID Atlanta,” Hughey said.
AID Atlanta wants to link HIV-positive patients to care
What Hughey considers the biggest benefit of affiliating with AHF is AHF’s focus on getting 20 million people with HIV linked to care, he said.
Atlanta ASOs do talk a lot about the need for HIV testing, but there is not a lot of talk about the ability to get those who test positive into care, Hughey said.
“I don’t think we are having enough conversations about that. What AHF does regardless of a person’s ability to pay is to get them into care. This is a mission we all need to be focused on. The numbers vary, but some 16,000 [HIV-positive] people are not in care, and another 17,000 to 18,000 do not know they are HIV positive and are not in care,” he said.
AID Atlanta is teaming up with AIDS Health Care Foundation, led by controversial figure Michael Weinstein.
National HIV activist and former AID Atlanta staff member Mark King said AHF is the ‘most dangerous entity in the HIV arena right now.’