This article is part of the Proud U series, a component of U=U & U, Pride Media’s year-long initiative to get the word out about HIV prevention, treatment, and testing, especially the groundbreaking news that people living with HIV who have undetectable viral loads can no longer transmit HIV.
With a Black majority population and a number of major attractions and events, Atlanta is more than just an emerging city of the South. It's the de facto capital of the South, according to many locals. While the city celebrates its diverse cultural heritage, it's also a hotspot for folks living with HIV.
Out of the 37,155 people living with HIV in the city as of the latest count, more than 70 percent of them are Black, according to AIDSvu.org. Compounding the need for resources, nearly one-third of African-Americans in Atlanta are living below the poverty line, which can result in a poor nutrition and inability to pay for viral medical treatments for those most at need. Research has shown the intersection of race, poverty, and limited access to health care has deadly consequences for those living with HIV. And the numbers are just as disturbing in the two counties that encompass Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb.
Help is available, though. The federal government has partnered with state, city, and tribal health departments as well as local non-profits in a combined effort to end HIV by the year 2030. The ambitious program, nationally known as Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America, mobilizes government resources and backs individual communities through four simple actions: detect, treat, prevent, and respond.
Detect new persons living with HIV through affordable and accessible testing. Treat by providing appropriate and easily accessible medical and mental health care with regular visits to a doctor, effectively deal with substance abuse issues, and ensure a nutritious diet and health and wellness that promote healing. Prevent through awareness campaign that highlight the use of PrEP to reduce and eventually eliminate future cases. Finally, respond where the needs are the greatest.
One of the goals of the program is to raise awareness of both undetectable equals untransmittable and PrEP. Known as U=U for short, this initiative is backed by research that shows when an HIV-positive person is virally suppressed (aka undetectable) for at least six months, it’s virtually impossible to transmit HIV to sexual partners.
Furthermore, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is an HIV prevention strategy that when practiced effectively makes you unable to contract HIV. Right now, the only FDA-approved form of PrEP is a daily pill called Truvada (which doesn’t prevent against other STIs).
Of course, experience has shown that HIV is an intersectional crisis and requires a broad, coordinated, outside-the-box set of solutions.
Poverty, systematic and institutional racism, food blight zones, lack of access to affordable health care, substance abuse, mental illness, and homelessness all combine to shape the depth of the HIV crisis. This requires an entirely new vision and point of attack.
“The major concerns for people living with HIV, everywhere and Atlanta, are problems that exist within all communities,” Atlanta-based activist and scholar Jamaan Parker explains to Plus, rattling off a list of concerns — adequate housing was the biggest of them all. He describes it as “the most prevalent issue” in addressing the needs of the HIV-positive community. Homelessness among young people living with HIV is another point of intersectionality to an already difficult environment.
Atlanta has responded to this challenge with a variety of resources, ranging from free testing, treatment, counseling, medication, to housing assistance for people living with HIV.
One excellent resource to start is HIV.gov. Simply enter your zip code to find a list of providers in your area. The website also provides plenty of helpful information. (For example, did you know there is a “window period” of anywhere from two to 12 weeks for HIV to become detectable?) Another resource is AIDSvu.org, which offers historical and statistical information to go along with their map-based referral services.
Take a peek at some local options:
Hope Atlanta: A portal for food, clothing, housing assistance, Hope Atlanta also has specific services for veterans and survivors of intimate partner violence. HOPE Atlanta offers an array of services including shelter and other emergency services and permanent supportive housing, case management, street outreach, homelessness prevention, domestic violence services, veterans services, HIV services, family reunification, and rapid rehousing. Their program for people living with HIV assists individuals with finding "housing at a safe and secure environment while stabilizing their lives and working towards self-sufficiency and permanent housing."
Some cheerful participants at a Hope Atlanta holiday event (above).
Living Room: A network for housing subsidies, referrals, and emergency housing-related assistance. Living Room serves both the 29-county Atlanta metropolitan area and the rural Northwest Georgia region surrounding Rome and Dalton. Living Room assists over 1,500 individuals, over 90 percent of whom are defined as “extremely low income,” in finding stable living arrangements each year.
Living Room and Out Front Theatre Company recently hosted the first Red Ribbon Readings to showcase three powerful plays that came out of the experiences of the early AIDS epidemic (pictured below).
AIDS Walk Atlanta & Music Festival: The event takes place on September 29 at Piedmond Park with the goal of raising $750,000 for participating local HIV service organizations. Onsite registration opens at 9:30 am. The 5K run starts at 11:30 am, followed by a music festival from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm that's good even for those who don't want to strap on sneakers.
AID Atlanta: Since 1982, AID Atlanta has been a vital resource providing HIV testing and treatment, as well as mental health counseling and housing assistance for those living with HIV. Ongoing initiatives include expanded behavioral health and case management services, expanded HIV and STI testing and clinic hours, and an onsite pharmacy. In the area of HIV outreach and education, AID Atlanta continues to actively work in communities of high impact to reach those most at risk of HIV and/or living without knowing their status.
For The Kids Toy Party: This fun event benefits AID Atlanta Women (pictured above), pediatrics, and other local nonprofits. It takes place on December 15, at the Atlanta Events Center and Wimbish House.
Find out more about U=U, and what that means for you, at our U=U&U channel.