The problems facing the city of Atlanta typically seem to mirror those in other large American cities. A pinch of crime, a dash of corruption, and the ever-lingering debate over how to balance public transportation. There’s a major health issue plaguing the city though, one that has gone mostly under the radar but has experts comparing Atlanta to parts of the third world – Fulton County’s AIDS epidemic.
According to the Center for Disease Control, parts of downtown Atlanta are seeing HIV/AIDS rates more like those you’d expect to see in a city like Harare, the capital of Zimbabwe, than in a modern U.S. regional capital.
Georgia is second as a state, according to the CDC, in terms of new HIV diagnoses, while Atlanta is fifth among metropolitan areas with populations over 500,000.
The issue is by far most prevalent among gay black men between the ages of 18-39. According to a study performed by researchers at Emory University, which followed a group of gay black males in that age group for a two year period, a shocking 12% contracted the virus. Additionally, per a Grady Memorial study which offered HIV screenings to all emergency room patients, over half the newly diagnosed sufferers of HIV already had AIDS, meaning they had not realized they were infected for an extended period of time. The Georgia Department of Public Health states that 64% of adults with HIV in Georgia are black, and lists AIDS as the leading cause of death for black people in Georgia between the ages of 35 and 44.
Much of this information was made public during a symposium hosted by the Georgia Black Legislative Caucus, the largest black caucus in the nation. HIV/AIDS doctors, researchers, and advocates gave speeches and presented plans directed at fighting the epidemic, including increased HIV screening, altering existing laws to allow minors to seek testing without parental consent, and finding ways to get necessary drugs to those who have been diagnosed. Many of the experts on hand had experience in helping clean up similar situations in other cities with large LGBT populations, from San Francisco to New York City. The nature of the demographics in Atlanta though, present their own challenge.
Only eight of the sixty members of the Georgia Black Caucus attended the event. The African American community in Georgia, despite being overwhelmingly Democratic, has an often difficult relationship with the homosexual community, in large part due to its evangelism. “My district is ground zero for this epidemic,” said State Senator Vincent Fort, whose South Atlanta district is at the heart of the crisis. He continued, “Moralism around homosexuality has kept people in power at arm’s length from this issue. We have to get beyond this.”