Atlanta's high HIV rates persist: LGBTQ advocates cut ribbon on new HIV clinic dedicated to patients of color

The new Total Life Care Center clinic occupies several floors at the NAESM organization building in Atlanta, offering patients HIV-related health care, PrEP, prevention and testing services for sexually transmitted infections, along with assistance with housing, health insurance and other needs. (Jess Mador/WABE)

Atlanta LGBTQ advocates are celebrating the opening of a new HIV-care clinic. The clinic also offers broader sexual health care and social-support services geared to its patient population of mostly Black gay men. 

Georgia has among the highest rates of HIV infection in the nation, ranking fourth for the total number of new diagnoses of HIV infection behind Florida, California and Texas, according to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The majority of Georgia cases are among men who have sex with men, the Georgia Department of Public Health reported. And Black men accounted for nearly 71% of the state’s HIV diagnoses in 2021. 

Among the factors behind Georgia’s longstanding HIV disparities, said Alvan Quamina, CEO and executive director of the nonprofit organization NAESM, are barriers to timely prevention and treatment, comprehensive health care and health insurance. 

The group’s new Total Life Care Center clinic is designed to be a one-stop location that offers HIV care, PrEP and prevention and testing services for sexually transmitted infections, along with assistance with housing, health insurance and other patient needs.   

“Who we want to serve here are folks that don’t have those resources, that need to be held particularly closely, that may feel uncomfortable in mainstream services, and so being able to provide that to 500 to 800 patients, we think, is really important,” Quamina said. 

The Total Life Care Center clinic is located on 14th Street NW in Atlanta. The program also currently sees a large number of Black women patients who come for HIV and STI testing.

“But overwhelmingly, who we target, who we prioritize, who we were created for are Black gay, bisexual, same-gender loving men. And because we reflect that population we really are a home for them, a medical home for them, and a social service home for them,” Quamina said. “They don’t have to explain themselves. They don’t have to apologize. They don’t have to feel uncomfortable because we are them and they are us. And so the importance of the clinic is being able to provide medical services that reflect our community.” 

Around 75 people attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday to mark the clinic’s opening.  

Around 75 people attended a ribbon cutting ceremony Tuesday to mark the new clinic’s opening. (Jess Mador/WABE)

The ceremony featured food, music, speeches, a dedication prayer and a tour of the facilities’ meeting spaces and brand-new patient exam rooms. 

Organizers said they are planning to convert an existing space in the building’s basement into an independent full-service pharmacy later this year.

Total Life Care Center clinic medical providers can see patients in person and via telehealth, including for HIV medication management.  

The clinic also operates several mobile clinic vans offering HIV prevention and testing, as well as STI prevention and testing services across the wider Atlanta metro area.    

The state Department of Public Health has made investigating the impacts of HIV/AIDS, preventing new infections and improving health outcomes for people living with HIV top priorities.

And Fulton County residents now have access to the county’s Department for HIV Elimination’s new, streamlined website officials announced this week.

The site lists metro area HIV-care providers and features a provider scorecard based on three criteria: retention in care, prescription of antiretroviral medications and viral load suppression, county officials said in a statement. 

“Clients will see that they have a choice in their HIV care, as well as access to educational videos to feel more empowered and supported with their healthcare options,” said Jeff Cheek, director of the Department for HIV Elimination.

Fulton County’s Department for HIV Elimination, previously known as Ryan White, provides medical services to low-income, uninsured or underinsured patients across the Atlanta metro area who are affected by HIV.

The program also provides funding for other services, such as childcare, transportation and food assistance. 

For details, visit the county’s new website.