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Introduction: OUR Time is NOW! | Print |

At a time when new HIV diagnoses are dropping precipitously in other communities, and when only 302 persons were diagnosed with HIV in San Francisco in 2014 (SFDPH, 2015), Fulton County’s new diagnoses remain stubbornly above 600 per year. HIV-Age-Fulton-CountyAnd the disparities we face are stunning. In 2014, 431 gay and bisexual men were newly diagnosed with HIV, amounting to approximately two-thirds of all new diagnoses. Four out of five of these men were black and over half of them were less than 30 years old. (Georgia Department of Public Health (GDPH) Epidemiology Unit, 2016) Data on transgender populations are sorely lacking, but there is every reason to expect unacceptable rates in these populations as well. Fortunately, new diagnoses in women are declining. But racial disparities are not. Making up only 44% of the county’s population, Blacks comprised 70% of new diagnoses in 2014. And while deaths of people with HIV are not necessarily from AIDS anymore, of the 200 deaths that occurred in 2014, approximately 75% were Black. (GDPH Epidemiology Unit, 2016). Even one death due to AIDS-defining opportunistic infections and malignancies is too many in 2016, when we know how to prevent AIDS.

 
HIV-New-Diagnosis-Fulton-CountyHIV-Deaths-Fulton-County
 

So much is wrong with this picture. Why is our epidemic so entrenched, when others move toward gaining control? Why is the epicenter of the civil rights movement now an epicenter of HIV/AIDS? How have we tolerated such stark disparities for all these years without taking to the streets in favor of LGBTQ and racial equality? Do we really believe that #BlackLivesMatter, or that #GayLivesMatter or that #TransLivesMatter or that #WomensLivesMatter or that #HIVLivesMatter? And if so, what can we actually do to make a difference?

Our Southern HIV epidemic is mired in a stew of inequality, with Atlanta having the highest income inequality ratio in the nation (Berube, 2015). HIV never saw an inequality it didn’t like, or couldn’t exploit. Maps of HIV prevalence mirror maps of inequalities of all sorts. Persons-HIV-Fulton-CountyHistoric vestiges of racism, homo- and transphobia, and stigma emanating from societal institutions including – perhaps especially – those of faith, mix in a cauldron with poverty, unstable housing, inadequate transportation infrastructures, high levels of unemployment and incarceration, and low levels of educational achievement to form the perfect poison that is our HIV epidemic. (AIDSVu.com Atlanta, 2012)

Meanwhile in our affluent northern suburbs, a new opioid epidemic brews with increasing heroin and fentanyl overdoses stealing the lives of high school youth, and threatening to become an Indiana-like epidemic just waiting for the first case of HIV or hepatitis C. Will we learn from past mistakes and rise up to avert another epidemic in our midst? While these statistics, and the realities they represent, are disturbing, our community is resilient. In the face of the horrific LGBTQ massacre in Orlando, an interfaith vigil in one of our highest HIV prevalence zip codes drew 3000 people who vowed together that #LoveWins. Blacks and whites and Latino/Hispanic and Asian-Americans and Native Americans and Republicans and Democrats and gay and trans and straight and gender fluid and business executives and politicians and homeless people and stockbrokers and teachers and rabbis and ministers and imams came together on that day. As a single community, we cried and laughed and and spoke truth about the need to unite, to seize the moment, to stand up against hate, violence, and stigma, and to put our differences aside.

And this is why we know that this community can win against HIV. We are a community with heart and an illustrious history of bending the moral arc of the universe toward justice. The passion is there, and so is the knowledge. Now, so is the political will in the form of leadership from the Fulton County Board of Commissioners. We know how to end new HIV infections. We know how to stop babies from being born with HIV. We know how to help people with HIV live long and healthy lives. We know how to eliminate death from AIDS. But we need a blueprint to guide the way. We need a bold Strategy to End AIDS in Fulton County. Together, we are making this Strategy a reality. If we are ever going to do this, OUR Time is NOW!

 
 

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