Louisiana Department of Health offers free STD, HIV screenings April 25_lowres


As city-parish leaders try to reduce transmission rates of HIV/AIDS by getting more lifesaving medications in the hands of those affected, the Metro Council on Wednesday agreed to disburse $4.5 million to six agencies for outreach and medical services this year.

The Metro Council gave Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome the authority to allocate funds awarded through the federal government's Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program and Minority AIDS Initiative to six of the eight local agencies hoping to receive funding for the grant period, which began March 1 and runs into Feb. 29, 2020.

"We're looking to increase viral suppression through the test-and-treat model," said Shamell Lavigne, program administrator for the city-parish's Ryan White Program. "Medical research has shown that any time someone tests positive and they get on antiretroviral medication within 72 hours, the virus is more likely to become suppressed in 30 to 45 days." 

Suppressing the presence of the virus in HIV-positive individuals, which means reducing the strength and presence in a patients's blood, not only improves the health of the patient but makes it less likely for that person to spread the disease to others. 

The Baton Rouge Metro area is ranked 5th in the nation, behind New Orleans, for the number of people diagnosed with HIV in a metropolitan area, according to the latest quarterly report published by the state Department of Health on Dec. 31, 2018. The five-parish metro area is ranked 2nd in the nation for the number of AIDS cases, the same report states. 

The six agencies to receive the funding are: HIV/AIDS Alliance for Region 2, Capitol City Family Health Center, Our Lady of the Lake Inc., Family Services of Greater Baton Rouge, NoAIDS Task Force, and Volunteers of America Greater Baton Rouge.

Each vied for the funds by submitting proposals outlining their scope of services and were selected based on the number of people they serve in the city-parish, their capacity to cater to the needs of certain geographic areas, and their history of service to the community. 

Since 2007, the city-parish has received grant funding through the Ryan White Program to combat the disease and provide treatment to those battling disease who can't afford or don't have access to healthcare. 

Last year, the mayor pledged to improve treatment of HIV in the city by ensuring that at least 90 percent of the people who test positive for the disease were on medication by 2020 through the nationwide health campaign Fast-Track Cities. 

Lavigne said that deadline has been extended to 2030. 

"This is going help reduce the stigma for people living with HIV," she said. "Because of the Affordable Care Act and the Medicaid expansion, we're not having to pay as much for medical care for underserved individuals." 

The percentage of HIV-positive patients on medication has steadily increased in the Baton Rouge area since 2014, jumping from 54 percent to 67 percent in 2017, according Louisiana Department of Health. 

Lavigne said more than 80 percent of the HIV-positive patients enrolled in the Ryan White Program in the city-parish are now receiving medication.

Follow Terry Jones on Twitter, @tjonesreporter.