Shelby County leaders urge the state to keep federal HIV prevention funding

Published: Feb. 14, 2023 at 6:01 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County leaders continue to urge Tennessee state leaders to reverse their decision to send back millions of dollars in federal funding that are dedicated to the testing, surveillance, and prevention of HIV in the Volunteer State.

The latest leader to do so is Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris, addressing a letter to Governor Bill Lee and Tennessee Department of Health (TDH) Commissioner Dr. Ralph Alvarado.

Harris wrote, in part, “Without this funding, there will likely be a reduction in available evidence-based community program. These trusted local institutions will see a decrease in testing, delays in access to services, and clinic closures.”

The total amount of funding that’s being sent back to the CDC is around $8.3 million.

According to Shelby County Heath Department (SCHD) Director Dr. Michelle Taylor, over 7,000 county residents have HIV, 1 for every 3 cases in the entire state.

What’s more concerning is that CDC ranks Memphis and Shelby County number three in the country for new HIV cases, behind only Atlanta and Miami.

“It isn’t a stretch,” she said, “to expect Shelby County to be the most impacted by this decision.”

“Not having those additional, supplemental funds would be devastating,” Dr. Taylor said.

SCHD receives funds directly from the federal government to help fight HIV.

The funds at stake are from the CDC that are sent to the state government, later to be dispersed to organizations like Friends for Life (FFL) in Memphis.

“This helps people in our community,” said FFL Executive Director Diane Duke. “This is millions of dollars that FFL gets and a lot of other coalition partners. A lot of it is for testing.”

FFL has been around for more than 30 years, offering free testing and outreach to help accurately report the number of residents with HIV in Shelby County and also provide care.

Without the federal dollars, and if not replaced by an alternative form of funding, they personally are looking at hundreds of thousands in losses.

“What it costs is the health and well-being of our community,” Duke said. “It’s only going to increase the new transmission of HIV.”

“If those community-based organizations aren’t funded at the level that they have been funded at, they may not have access to those tests,” said Dr. Taylor. “If they are not able to operate, that that will affect our ability to really be able to do proper surveillance across the country.”

Efforts have been made to help supplement an anticipated lack of funding.

In mid-January, Congressman Steve Cohen’s office announced a $1.2 million grant in the form of HIV funding for Shelby County.

A TDH spokesperson told us Tuesday that a plan is being formulated to replace the federal funds with state funds.

If there does end up being a gap in HIV funding, that would have already been filled by dollars from the CDC, Dr. Taylor says SCHD will step in.

“SCHD would not only try to stand in the gap, but we would advocate for those other organizations who do that work every single day,” Dr. Taylor said.

However, the SCHD Director said her office’s supply could be reduced as well if there ends up being a high demand and not enough funding to meet it.

“It is the hope of all of us here at the Shelby County Health Department that this decision will be reversed,” said Dr. Taylor.

The current CDC program is set to end May 31.

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