The Louisiana Department of Health received a $1.5 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to support efforts to end the HIV epidemic in East Baton Rouge Parish. The grant will be used over a six-month period beginning in July 2019 to support a number of different initiatives.
The grant comes as part of the first wave of funding to support the federal government’s 10-year plan to end the HIV epidemic.
“The Department has already been making progress on decreasing the rates of new HIV cases and improving the care for people living with HIV. This grant gives us the resources to do even more in terms of preventing new cases, getting more people tested, and connecting people living with HIV to appropriate care,” said Dr. Alex Billioux, assistant secretary of the Office of Public Health.
Money from the grant will be used in collaboration with community partners in the parish and the city of Baton Rouge to implement a number of different initiatives and interventions to tackle the HIV epidemic in East Baton Rouge. Some of these initiatives include:
- Providing expanded testing for HIV, syphilis and hepatitis C.
- Supporting the expansion of rapid start HIV treatment to residents of East Baton Rouge Parish at the time of diagnosis.
- Increasing the number of people living with HIV who are receiving care and achieving and maintaining viral suppression. Viral suppression is the point at which the virus cannot be detected and thus cannot be spread.
- Expanding the access to PrEP, or medications that prevent HIV infections, including increasing the capacity of the TelePrEP program. The TelePrEP program allows patients to virtually connect to a provider for a PrEP prescription.
- Expanding the existing syringe service program.
- Providing education, testing and referral service to populations who are not as likely to seek testing or care.
“We want people to know their status, and if they are diagnosed with HIV, we want to be able to link them with a healthcare professional who can assist in their treatment,” Billioux said. “These initiatives will allow us to build on the progress we’ve made in recent years.”
Recently, LDH announced a decrease in the number of new HIV cases in Louisiana. According to data and research by the Department’s Bureau of Infectious Diseases, the number of new HIV infections reported in the state in 2018 was 989 — fewer than any year in the last decade. The number of newly-diagnosed cases of HIV in Louisiana has declined over 12% in the past three years.
Additionally, East Baton Rouge recently joined the U=U initiative. This national effort highlights established evidence that people living with HIV cannot spread the virus to sexual partners if they are receiving care and taking medications to control the virus to the point that it cannot be detected in the blood.