Improving Communities: Diseases, Disorders--HIV/AIDS

These voluntary health organizations such as the American Cancer Society are organized on a national, state or local basis and supported primarily by voluntary contributions from the public at large. They are engaged in a program of service, education and sometimes research that is related to a particular disease, condition or disability, or group of diseases, conditions or disabilities. These agencies are also active in the prevention or treatment of diseases and disorders and they may represent medical practices, specialties and disciplines. One subset of this category is HIV/AIDS.
 
Skip below to see grants and support toward disease, disorders and medical disciplines in the Atlanta region.
 
Skip below to learn about investment approaches for disease, disorders and medical disciplines. 

HIV/AIDS

Five men stricken with a rare pneumonia in Los Angeles in 1981 marked the beginning of awareness in the United States of a disease that has since changed the landscape of health. The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and the disease it causes, Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS), have become epidemics in Atlanta and across the globe.
 
HIV kills or damages cells of the immune system, progressively destroying the body’s ability to fight infections and certain cancers. Some people with HIV develop AIDS, and may contract life-threatening diseases from viruses or bacteria that attack their weakened immune system. HIV can only be passed from one person to another through blood, semen, vaginal secretions and breast milk, and from mother-to-child through pregnancy and childbirth.
 
HIV has infected 65 million people worldwide, and 25 million of those have died, based on estimates of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS. Five million people were projected to become infected with HIV in 2006, and more than 3 million people were likely to die of AIDS in the same year.
 
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports these U.S. statistics:

  • An estimated 1-1.1 million people are living with HIV infection, and more than 400,000 are living with AIDS.
  • More than 525,000 individuals have died due to AIDS.
  • One in four people infected with HIV have not been diagnosed and are unaware of their status, increasing the chances that they may infect others.
  • Approximately 40,000 new HIV infections occur each year.

HIV and AIDS have changed radically since the CDC first identified the disease. While most people with AIDS died in the early years, medical advances have reduced death rates dramatically. Potent anti-HIV medications reduce the virus’s impact on the immune system, and a reasonable quality of life is possible for those with the financial resources to access these drugs. For those who have access, medications have also sharply lowered mother-to-child transmission through pregnancy and breast-feeding.
 
While HIV infection rates remain stable in the United States, its impact is significant where HIV hits hard. As the National AIDS Fund describes in its recent publication, One Epidemic, HIV is fueled across the world by “a universal set of social and structural inequities,” such as poverty, poor health care, inadequate education, homophobia, and racial/ethnic inequalities.
 
The face of AIDS is also changing. In the United States, the disease first affected gay white men. Medical advances and strong prevention efforts developed within this community in the initial years succeeded in reducing infection rates and developing safer sex practices that decreased new infections among this group. Yet the disease did not go away. It has spread to new groups where the risk has not been understood, where prevention education has not been focused, where medications are not affordable or available, and where social factors put people at increased risk for chronic HIV/AIDS and other health problems. 
 
New HIV infection is concentrating most in people of color and people who are poor, homeless, incarcerated, have other health challenges, unprotected sex, and/or use drugs. Their infections are more likely to progress to AIDS because these communities have substantial or no access to health care and often do not get the level of treatment needed to reduce the virus’s destruction of their immune system.
 
HIV/AIDS in Georgia
Infection rates are high in Georgia and metro Atlanta. Georgia ranked 4th in the number of new AIDS cases, 7th in cumulative AIDS cases and 8th in the number of persons living with AIDS in 50 states and the District of Columbia in 2005. Of the 19 public health districts in Georgia, nine had an AIDS case rate above the national average.
 
Based on data from the Georgia Department of Human Resources’ Epidemiology Branch of the Division of Public Health, estimates for metro Atlanta show more than 26,000 people living with HIV/AIDS, and more than 9,500 of these (37%) have diagnosed AIDS cases. The region accounts for 66 percent of the total AIDS cases in Georgia. Within metro Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb counties have the highest infection rates.
 
More startling statistics include:
  • Men who have sex with men still represent the largest group of people living with AIDS in Atlanta at 51%. 
  • Sixteen percent of AIDS cases result from injection drug use, and the proportion of AIDS in women has grown from 4% to 19% since 1987. 
  • While African Americans make up 29% of Georgia’s population, they represent 77% of new AIDS cases in Georgia and 63% of all existing AIDS cases in Atlanta were among this group. 
  • African-American women account for 87% of all women with AIDS in Atlanta. 
  • 50% of new HIV infections are occurring in youth 16-24 years old. 

 

Investment approaches

Research has revealed the most effective strategy for HIV prevention is prevention education. The following prevention strategies reflect the work of The Community Foundation grantees as well as prevention experts at the CDC and the Center for AIDS Prevention Studies at the University of California San Francisco:

  • Testing and counseling make more people aware of infection.
  • Comprehensive sex and HIV education before teens begin sexual activity is proven to delay and reduce sexual activity, and increase condom use.
  • Providing sterile needles reduces infection rates for drug users and their partners.
  • Combining HIV prevention with mental health and substance abuse services reaches groups at high risk of infection.
  • Incorporating HIV/AIDS information in women’s general health messages addresses their higher risk of infection from heterosexual sex.


HIV services for people already infected are most effective when they aim to improve health and the ability to live as independently as possible. A range of programs that provide a continuum of supports, including healthy food options, peer counseling, child care, and advocacy is important. Also, stable housing is critical to success; without it, stability, medical progress and regular medication use are unlikely. 


Grants & Support 

  • A $22,000 grant from our Common Good Funds was given to the Center for Black Women’s Wellness, Inc. to provide technical assistance to increase the capacity of the organization to more effectively serve its clients through updated technology, organizational and board development. HIV/AIDS continues to disproportionately affect black women and remains the leading cause of death for black women ages 25 to 34. For 20 years, the Center has provided low-income, unemployed and uninsured women with a host of quality health services to “to empower black women, and their families, toward physical, mental and economic wellness.” 
  • Since its inception in 1990, AIDGwinnett has provides HIV supportive services and prevention education to more than 900 clients and their families. A $14,500 grant from our Atlanta AIDS Partnership Fund was given to AIDGwinnett to support youth education programming. From 2000 to 2004, the number of young people (ages 13 to 24) living with HIV increased 42%, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Each year, the AIDS Fund brings together the combined resources of countless people and organizations, and invests those resources in local programs that meet critical needs.
  • Since 2000, over $100,000 has been granted to Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition (AHRC), a prevention and wellness organization committed to empowering adults currently engaged in high-risk lifestyles. This includes individuals who are substance abusers, alcoholics, sex workers and/or homeless. AHRC provides clients evidenced-based education and prevention programs, as well as referrals to the appropriate inpatient or outpatient medical, substance abuse treatment or transitional facilities.  

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