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Louisiana One Of The First To Receive Federal Funds To End HIV Epidemic By 2030

Wallis Watkins
Baton Rouge State Capitol

In his State of the Union address earlier this year, President Trump announced plans to eliminate the spread of new HIV cases in the U.S. by 2030. The initiative will focus on 48 areas across the country seeing the majority of new HIV cases, including East Baton Rouge and Orleans parishes.

The first round of funding was recently announced and sends $1.5 million to East Baton Rouge Parish.

On this week's Capitol Access, Dr. Alexander Billioux, Assistant Secretary of Louisiana's Office of Public Health, talks about what the investment could mean for HIV care in the state. 

Q: We spoke shortly after the Trump Administration announced these plans. So what's happened in the five months since East Baton Rouge and Orleans parishes were included in this initiative.

Well, I think when we last spoke it was really right after the State of the Union when we were learning about the president's plan to eliminate HIV or end the HIV epidemic in the coming years. At that time we didn't know how we would be funded. We knew that Baton Rouge and New Orleans had been selected as sites and we've now gotten our first glimpse of what kind of funding opportunity might come our way. So we learned in June that East Baton Rouge Parish specifically had been chosen as one the first four parishes or counties across the country to be awarded money to help end the HIV epidemic. We put together a strong proposal working with our partners across East Baton Rouge and we're glad to be informed that we did get $1.5 million that's going to really boost all of our efforts in that parish and hopefully have spillover effects for the entire region.

Q: Can you give some specific examples of how the money will be used?

Well, the core things that we do to end HIV is going to be getting people tested. Again, one of the key problems is that many people don't know their status and so we really need to get more people screened and tested so that we can actually get them to the second strategy, which is getting them into treatment as quickly as possible. And you know those are two things that this money will be applied to, for instance, really expanding the places that people can get tested and then really increasing the number of people who are started on treatment within the first 72 hours after learning their status. But ideally even within the first 24 hours. We really want to start seeing more what we call Rapid Start models, where as soon as you find out your status we essentially get you linked in and started on treatment because the most important thing we can do for HIV is prevent new infections by getting the virus undetectable in the blood of people with HIV.

Q: $1.5 million is not a huge amount of money when we're talking about a federal grant and for a state that has one of the highest HIV case rates in the nation. So how much would it take to really make a difference in HIV care here in Louisiana?

Well, I think it depends on how you apply it. We as a state and certainly our community partners know what to do and in many ways we're doing the right things. We just needed more support more resources to do them. I think $1.5 million in a single parish can really go a long way. It will increase access to things like preventive medication that individuals who are maybe at increased risk for acquiring HIV can take. There are more areas in the state than just New Orleans and Baton Rouge that are in need of help. And so what we are certainly looking for is leveraging not only these opportunities but a lot of future federal opportunities to expand our programs in those other settings.