AIDS Services of Austin evolving in services as the approach to the virus evolves

Paul Scott of AIDS Services of Austin At 2017 AIDS Walk

Last week, AIDS Services of Austin announced it would build the city’s first comprehensive, centralized medical home dedicated to treating and preventing HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. The new clinic, which would open in the spring of 2018 on Cameron Rd, would provide medical and preventive care for HIV-positive and negative people as well as screening and testing, medical case management, oral health services, nutrition assistance, housing assistance, health insurance assistance, legal services, and emergency financial assistance.

The goal is to help more people “navigate the stigma and complexities of care,” said Paul Scott, CEO of ASA. “It’s beyond medicine, beyond education, beyond any one service. The future is an innovative, integrated medical home that will take the community beyond HIV,” said Scott.

While HIV/AIDS awareness peaked in 1995 when it was the leading cause of death for Americans ages 25-44, today many people are under the false impression that AIDS has been cured, said Alberto Barragan, ASA’s director of prevention. New medications have allowed for the prevention of HIV and, as long as people who go on to contract AIDS have access to treatment, AIDS is no longer a death sentence. But the HIV virus continues to spread with a 40 percent increase in HIV cases in Central Texas over the past 10 years, averaging 250-300 new cases annually. And African-Americans and Latinos are disproportionately affected by the virus in Central Texas.

“Even though we may have 300 new cases in Austin, we’re slowly seeing the number of people who don’t know their status being reduced,” said Scott, noting that the number of Central Texans who don’t know their status is down 16 percent from last year. “Normalizing testing is a key component.” Last year, ASA outreach and testing efforts reached 4,500 at-risk Central Texans.

“Knowing your status and early detection means you can have great outcomes,” said Scott. ASA reports that of the 6,000 current cases of HIV in Central Texas, one in five are not aware of their status. The stigma of HIV and AIDS, especially in minority community, can keep people from getting checked. Much of Barragan’s work is community outreach to address that stigma. “We intentionally hire people that look like them to be our voice in the community,” he said. “That makes our message more real for people.”

Barragan also said the clinic will administer a pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP, a medication proven to prevent the infection of HIV when taken once a day. “We want to make sure we are offering that service for our HIV negative clients, and we can work with people who don’t have insurance,” because there are programs to cover the costs of that medication, which can range from $800 – $1,000 a month without insurance, he said.

Construction of the clinic is being funded with an initial grant of $1,023,000 from the Galveston-based Moody Foundation, and is projected to serve 8 percent of people living with HIV/AIDS in it first year up to 40 percent in its fourth year. “One of the things that really spoke to me,” said Ross Moody, a trustee of the family foundation, “was that their goal is to have zero new infections in Austin through education and PrEP. At the end of the day, nobody deserves to have HIV.”

PHOTO: Paul Scott of AIDS Services of Austin at the 2017 AIDS Walk.

NOTE: This article was also published in the Austin American-Statesman on November 17, 2017.

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