Number of people entering treatment at Cobb County HIV / AIDS treatment center on the rise

by Haisten Willis and Judi Kanne

While HIV / AIDS has often made national headlines for decades and medical advances have dramatically reduced the threat of death associated with the disease, it remains a factor in Metro Atlanta and the county. by Cobb.

The number of HIV-positive patients entering a local treatment program has increased in recent years, and the problem is particularly prevalent in parts of the county.

There were 76 AIDS-related deaths in Cobb County between 2012 and 2016. The highest number of deaths, five, occurred in a single census tract, # 13067031311, near Six Flags Drive and just in north of I-20. The same census tract recorded an alarming infant mortality rate over the five-year period.

Metro Atlanta has one of the highest rates of new infections in the country, and the Southeast generally has the highest number of people living with HIV and AIDS.

The Southeast also suffers from some of the highest poverty rates in the country, the highest rates of sexually transmitted infections, the highest number of people without health insurance, at least access to health care and the fastest growing HIV epidemic in the country, according to Southern AIDS. Coalition Board of Directors. Even wealthy counties like Cobb are not immune to these problems.

Capstone Health is the clinic that oversees the Ryan White HIV / AIDS Program To Cobb & Douglas Public Health (CRPD), named after Indiana teenager Ryan White, who died of AIDS in 1990 and was instrumental in shaping perceptions of the disease. The program provides HIV-related services across the country for people without healthcare or financial resources, and is administered by the US Department of Health and Human Services.

The number of HIV / AIDS patients enrolling in the program is far from encouraging. According to recent data received from Cobb & Douglas Public Health, the clinic’s patient count has grown from 628 in 2010 to 774 in the past year, a jump of 23%. Statistically, this means that more HIV-positive patients are receiving care, although this does not necessarily indicate an increasing number of new HIV infections.

Dr. Yvonne L. Carter, Director of Infectious Diseases, leads a team that cares for patients living with HIV / AIDS, and said the job comes with many challenges.

“From a very broad perspective, the challenge lies in the specific stages of the HIV care continuum,” Carter said.

This continuum includes diagnosis, engagement with patient and clinic staff, and retention. Carter focuses on a team approach, she said. For HIV / AIDS, the team includes behavioral health professionals, as well as doctors, nurses, epidemiologists and others.

“Capstone Health uses state and federal funding to provide HIV / AIDS support services that minimize barriers to care, and ultimately claims one of the highest viral load suppression rates in the metro area. Atlanta, ”Carter said.

Viral suppression means that a patient has very low levels of HIV in their blood. It is achieved through medication management, although patients should continue to take medication because even very low levels of HIV do not mean a person is cured. HIV is still in the body, a message according to infectious disease experts must be spread.

Although the number of HIV / AIDS diagnoses is higher in Fulton and DeKalb counties, HIV in Cobb County is also a significant health problem. According to AIDSVu, an interactive online map illustrating the HIV epidemic in the United States, in 2014, 416 out of 100,000 people in Cobb were living with a diagnosis of HIV. Rates were higher in Fulton (1,491 out of 100,000) and DeKalb (1,114 out of 100,000), but significantly lower in neighboring counties such as Paulding (114 out of 100,000) and Cherokee (132 out of 100,000).

Black men are 4.7 times more likely to contract HIV than white men, and black women are more than 14 times more likely to contract HIV than white women, according to AIDSvu. The increase in the number of HIV-infected patients from Cobb & Douglas Public Health suggests a growing and increasingly diverse population in Cobb, according to state and local authorities.

The Capstone clinic is located in the Marietta Public Health Center. In 2014, the Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) HIV-related disease surveillance summary reported that Georgia is ranked fifth in the country for the number of people living with HIV. Two-thirds of Georgia’s HIV-positive patients live in the Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area.

“It’s a priority (in Cobb and Douglas counties),” said Rachel Franklin, director of epidemiology and health assessment at the CDPH. “While HIV care is not particularly highlighted in Cobb & Douglas’s 2017-2021 Community Health Improvement Plan, HIV care is certainly a component of that larger picture. “

Communities with high poverty, income inequality and a lack of health insurance are at higher risk of being affected by HIV, according to data from AIDSVu and those working in HIV / AIDS communities.

Research shows that treating HIV early can reduce the risk of transmission to a partner by up to 93 percent, according to the AIDSVu website.

Male-to-male sexual transmission of HIV accounts for more than 43% of Cobb cases, according to a 2010 AIDSVu report, with black males between the ages of 18 and 24 being particularly affected.


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