Georgia CAPUS – Finding Care and Treatment for HIV and AIDS

October 20, 2014

To protect the privacy of persons living with HIV who were interviewed for this story, PHWEEK has permission to use their first names.

The Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) recently launched the Georgia CAPUS Care Portal, a new online resource hub designed to link persons living with HIV to care and treatment.

CAPUS, which stands for Care and Prevention in the United States, is a cross-agency project led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) that aims to create more efficient and more effective systems to improve HIV testing, linkage to and retention in care, specifically targeting highest risk minority populations. Georgia was one of only eight states in the U.S. to be awarded a portion of a $44.2 million dollar grant from the CDC. Georgia DPH received $7.5 million to be used in part for the design and implementation of the CAPUS Care Portal.

Georgia CAPUS can help increase the number of Georgians who are engaged and retained in care, as well as those who are virally suppressed. In 2012, 54 percent of those living with HIV in the state were minimally engaged in care, 38 percent retained in care, and 39 percent were virally suppressed according to Georgia’s HIV Care Continuum.

DPH’s Georgia CAPUS team hopes to make a positive impact on those statistics and improve the system of HIV health care services in the state for years to come.

“This is Georgia’s opportunity to ensure racial and ethnic minorities know their HIV status and optimize HIV care and prevention services for citizens that need these resources the most, as well as those who have fallen out of care for whatever reason,” said J. Patrick O’Neal, M.D., director of health protection at DPH. “It is imperative that we reduce health disparities by addressing social and structural factors that can be powerful barriers to care and often negatively impact health outcomes.”

For citizens living with HIV in the state, the Georgia CAPUS project is a welcomed addition to existing HIV services and resources.

Kevin, 49, is one of the more than 50,000 people living with HIV in Georgia. Twenty-six years after his HIV diagnosis, he now uses his life experience to inspire others as a peer counselor and local HIV community activist. Through his work, he promotes the importance of simplifying the path to health care and social services for HIV patients.

“It is crucial that African-American men who have sex with men that are HIV positive access health care services to ensure they maintain a healthy lifestyle and help stop the spread of the disease,” said Kevin. “We have to take advantage of the advancements in the medical services and treatments available to patients.”

Kim, 47, never imagined she would be a spokesperson for women living with HIV. Her story is representative of the nation’s population of HIV positive African-American women – a demographic that has been severely impacted by the disease at alarming rates. Today, Kim is an active member of the African-American Outreach Initiative (AAOI) where she is able to help others cope with the disease, but most of all, help them identify a medical team to connect to care and treatment.

“Being in care has made all the difference in the world,” said Kim. “It changed my life because I was ignorant to HIV before my diagnosis. After getting into care, I have learned so much about the disease and how I can better manage my health.”

When Kim first learned of her HIV diagnosis, she did not know that she would live long enough to see her grandchildren grow up. She no longer sees her condition as an obstacle to living a fulfilling life and hopes to equip HIV positive individuals with resources and information needed to learn how to adopt and maintain a healthy lifestyle.

“My lifestyle changed because my diagnosis made me more health conscious and helped me make better choices regarding diet and exercise,” said Kim. “There is nothing like going to the doctor and getting a good report.”

Queen Onika, 30, learned about her HIV status in January 2013 after her annual physical exam. She was initially alarmed by her HIV status realizing it was a lifelong diagnosis, but through education and working closely with health providers, Queen Onika has learned how to balance managing the disease with pursuing her career goals.

“I thought I caught something that could be cured and soon realized there was no cure. It was a heartbreaking realization,” she said. “I have to take the appropriate medication for the rest of my life, but I’ve decided I’m going to live and be happy. I set out to land a job I’ve always wanted and I’m currently working in that position!”   

Similar to Kevin and Kim, Queen Onika wants to use her experience as a HIV positive person to educate and support others when navigating the health care continuum.

“I’m glad I can support those who discover they’re HIV positive,” she said. “Everyone doesn’t have the family support I did. That’s why it’s important I use my story to help others in the same situation learn how to live the life they’ve always wanted despite their diagnosis.”

Georgia CAPUS is the state’s new gateway to helping more individuals like Kevin, Kim and Queen Onika know their HIV status, secure vital health care services and educate themselves about the disease with easily accessible health care information and data.

To learn more about the Georgia CAPUS Care Portal, visit www.gacapus.com or call Georgia AIDS/STD Infoline at 1-800-551-2728.

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