DPH Honors World AIDS Day to Educate Georgians about HIV/AIDS

December 1, 2014

Today is the 26th anniversary of World AIDS Day, observed annually on Dec. 1 to raise awareness about the AIDS pandemic caused by the spread of HIV infection.  The Georgia Department of Public Health’s (DPH) experts are hoping today’s activities and celebrations will provide a clear perspective on the impact of HIV and AIDS locally. The theme of this year’s World AIDS Day is “Focus, Partner, Achieve: An AIDS-free Generation.”

AIDS does not discriminate.  It is a global disease that impacts every community, ethnicity and country in the world, particularly the United States.

In 2012, DPH’s HIV surveillance indicated that 50,436 persons were living with HIV infection in Georgia. Within that population, 45 percent had HIV and 55 percent had AIDS.  The largest HIV and AIDS cases are found in higher populations in urban communities such as metropolitan cities.  However, a substantial increase in documented cases has been identified in rural communities throughout Georgia.  

“Every public health district is affected by HIV/AIDS and to ignore this data is an opportunity for the epidemic to continue and expand throughout the state,” said Gregory S. Felzien, M.D., AAHIVS, medical advisor to the Divison of Health Protection IDI-HIV unit at DPH.  “It is imperative that we offer consistent information concerning the epidemic in Georgia so everyone understands how HIV/AIDS affects their community.”

World AIDS Day provides the perfect platform for health experts to share ways to address a disease that has been around for more than three decades.  In 1981, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published the first Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR) describing a rare lung infection in five men in Los Angeles.  This MMWR marked the first official reporting of what is known today as the AIDS epidemic.

“This observance is a great platform to get everyone to think about HIV/AIDS and how it affects them individually, within the community and across the state,” said Dr. Felzien.  “It is time we move past the stigma and discrimination to openly discuss this subject with our fellow community members. Open communication and information sharing will greatly help in eliminating myths about the disease. This in turn will decrease new cases and positively impact the care of those affected by HIV/AIDS throughout the state.”

The state of Georgia is tackling the social determinants of health (mental health issues, substance abuse issues, housing issues, nutritional issues and stigma) in an effort to improve linkage, retention and adherence to HIV/AIDS therapy.

“The epidemic is especially troubling in Georgia because of the health disparity,” said J. Patrick O’Neal, M.D., director of DPH’s Division of Heath Protection.  “Addressing these social determinants requires collaboration among many disciplines to mitigate the disease’s disproportionate impact on certain communities such as young African American men and women.”

Treatment is prevention and DPH’s HIV Section has engaged in various HIV/AIDS initiatives to improve HIV testing, treatment and care for Georgians.

In September, the HIV Section launched the Georgia Care and Prevention in the U.S. (CAPUS) project.  CAPUS is a three-year cross-agency demonstration project led by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The project is designed to reduce HIV and AIDS-related morbidity and mortality among racial and ethnic minorities living in the United States by exploring new, more efficient, and more effective systems to improve HIV testing, linkage to and retention in care, and antiretroviral adherence. Georgia is one of only eight states awarded funding to implement the innovative program.

Michelle Allen, STD director, will represent DPH at several World AIDS Day events.  During her appearances, she will highlight the connection between sexually transmitted diseases and their impact on HIV/AIDS transmission.

Presently, Georgia is number one in the nation for infectious syphilis.  Syphilis makes it easier to transmit and acquire HIV infection sexually.  There is an estimated two to five fold increased risk of acquiring HIV if exposed to the HIV infection when syphilis is present, according to research from the CDC.

“We are all affected by the HIV epidemic,” said Allen.  “We must continue to embrace the responsibility to heighten awareness and prevention efforts. Our ‘Testing Makes Us Stronger’ promotion is not just a national campaign promoting HIV testing among black gay and bisexual men. It is a clear call to action. Prevention is a cure and we all play a role in reducing rates of the disease or helping those infected with the disease access the health care services they need.”

Allen will attend the Georgia Sexual Health Policy Symposium hosted by the Georgia Legislative Black Caucus (GLBC) at the State Capitol from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.  The symposium will educate policymakers, public health professionals and community members on how to reverse the tide of rapidly increasing rates of sexually transmitted disease and infections, including HIV.

Allen will also visit Ebenezer Baptist Church at 6 p.m. in Atlanta to discuss why churches must meaningfully address sex, sexuality and HIV/AIDS to break the stigma associated with HIV/AIDS.  As a board member of the National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD), Allen will join this event alongside representatives from the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS (NBLCA) and the National Alliance of State and Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD).

A number of local health departments across Georgia are also engaged in World AIDS Day activities, including: 

  • South Health District’s Infectious Disease Office and Valdosta State University have teamed up to present “Behind the Masks: Telling the Truth and Creating Healing,” from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in the Student Union Ballrooms A and B. Lunch will be provided for the first 125 people who register in advance online or call (229) 259-5105.
  • North Georgia Health District is coordinating a World AIDS Day celebration in Dalton to show support for people living with HIV/AIDS and to commemorate those who have died. Reverend Rodney Weaver will preside over the ceremony and Dr. Mark Elam will be the guest speaker. The celebration is at First Baptist Church of Dalton, located at 311 North Thornton Avenue, from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. For more information, call (706) 281-2370.
  • Fulton County Department of Health & Wellness is hosting a health fair to promote HIV testing from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. in the Aldredge Health Center at 99 Jesse Hill Jr. Drive in Atlanta. The department will also host a health fair at Morehouse College from 2 – 6 p.m. in Archer Hall. For more information about events, call Phyllis Powell or Tonya Franklin at (404) 613-1468 or 1469.
  • Cobb and Douglas Public Health staff will offer free rapid HIV testing and counseling from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in support of World AIDS Day.  Testing sites will be the Marietta Public Health Center located at 1650 County Services Parkway and the Douglasville Public Health Center located at 6770 Selman Drive.  No appointments are needed.

Send your 2014 World AIDS Day events to AskDPH@dph.ga.gov and let us know how you engaged your community to address HIV testing, treatment and care in Georgia.  Visit http://dph.georgia.gov/hiv-prevention-program to learn more about DPH’s HIV prevention programs.

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