The time to act is now!
This is our time. The time to end the AIDS epidemic in our community is now.
Now we have effective treatment capable of preventing progression to AIDS in people with HIV, often allowing them to live a normal lifespan. Now we have the tools to vastly decrease new HIV infections through effective treatment of people who have HIV (treatment is prevention) and combination prevention strategies including pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for those who do not. And now we have a blue ribbon task force on HIV/AIDS to provide transparency, leadership, and a Strategy to End AIDS in Fulton County. The question is no longer, “Can we do it?” but “Will we do it?”
Our answer has been disappointing thus far. Finally, it is time to say, “Yes, we can and we will!” And we must say it in unison, as a community. Will you be part of that voice?
On World AIDS Day 2014, Fulton County Board of Commissioners Chairman John Eaves and Commissioner Joan Garner participated in an event at which they heard that Atlanta’s young black gay and bisexual men are infected with HIV at rates similar to parts of Africa. They also heard that, as of that date, metro Atlanta ranked first nationally in its rate of new HIV diagnoses, and that, after 30 years, we still have no coordinated strategy to attack this problem.
Commissioner Garner asked, “What can Fulton County do?” The response was, “Take leadership.” And Chairman Eaves responded, “We will do it.” Two weeks later, they led the Board of Commissioners in creating the Fulton County Task Force on HIV/AIDS. This sentinel moment marked the first time that elected officials have taken concrete action to seriously address our epidemic.
The Task Force adopted as its primary mission to create and oversee the implementation of a “Strategy to End AIDS in Fulton County.” The Task Force adopted the overall goals of the 2020 National HIV/AIDS Strategy as the key goals of the new Fulton Coun-
ty strategy. These goals are to:
“The HIV/AIDS epidemic has plagued metro Atlanta, including Fulton County, for far too long. We have lost too many, and continue to see too many suffer needlessly.”
Reduce new HIV infections Increase access to care and improve health outcomes for people living with HIV
Reduce HIV-related disparities and health inequities
Achieve a more coordinated local response to the epidemic
With input from colleagues in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and elsewhere, the Task Force has created a plan to accomplish this work.
But the Task Force cannot be successful without robust community engagement and input. The Community Engagement Plan will evolve, but initially includes an online Community Input Survey to solicit recommendations for Strategy Objectives, and a series of four Community Listening Sessions to facilitate direct feedback to the Task Force in October and November. The survey is now available at www.surveymonkey.com/r/HNYD87X.
The HIV/AIDS epidemic has plagued metro Atlanta, including Fulton County, for far too long. We have lost too many and continue to see too many suffer needlessly. Now we have a chance. Will we take it?
Melanie Thompson, MD is principal investigator of the AIDS Research Consortium of Atlanta (ARCA) and Chair of the Prevention and Care Committee of the Task Force.
Contact the Task Force directly at firstname.lastname@example.org