Partnership aims to prevent HIV/AIDS

Todd Cohen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Mecklenburg County gets about 400 cases of HIV a year, the highest among North Carolina’s 100 counties, and also leads the state in the number of cases of syphilis, a sexually-transmitted disease that can be a “portal” for HIV because people with syphilis are at high risk of getting HIV.

Working to help prevent HIV/AIDS and to provide services to people with the disease in the region is the Carolinas CARE Partnership.

Founded in 1990, the agency recently changed its name from the Regional HIV/AIDS Consortium to better reflect its focus on prevention, says Terry Ellington, executive director.

The group provides “comprehensive AIDS resources and education,” he says, and aims to focus on “partnering with other organizations and stakeholders and consumers in not only supporting people living with HIV/AIDS but also preventing HIV/AIDS for those who may be at risk.”

Operating with an annual budget of just over $2 million and a staff of 12 employees, Carolinas CARE Partnership serves about 2,500 people a year through programs that focus on housing, training, women’s health, counseling and testing.

Most of the programs are funded with federal, state or local grants, with contributed income accounting for about 7 percent of overall revenue.

The agency, for example, provides direct housing for roughly 30 families in Mecklenburg and eight other counties through a rental-voucher program.

It also will train 100 to 150 professionals throughout the state this year who provide services to people with HIV/AIDS, down from 500 last year because a multi-year state grant ended.

The agency had been providing HIV/ADS case-management training to service providers who work at nonprofit and public agencies throughout the state under the contract, which totaled nearly $100,000, through the state Medicaid program.

A separate program provides free HIV prevention education to 160 African-American women who live in rural counties, and provided counseling and testing for over 1,000 people at substance-abuse centers and at non-traditional sites such as homeless shelters, churches and nightclubs.

And in a partnership with the Center for Health Policy at Duke University, the Carolinas CARE Partnership coordinates mental-health services that local counselors in Mecklenburg County provide for 38 individuals with HIV in their homes.

Ellington says the agency during the economic crisis has been able to avoid cutting jobs and spending because its grant funding has been relatively stable.

Still, he says, demand for services has grown, in part because the state has reduced funding and tightened eligibility requirements for a program that provides financial assistance to help people with HIV/AIDS pay for drugs.

“As more individuals became unemployed,” Ellington says, “that waiting list has become longer and longer.”

HIV/AIDS prevention will continue to be a priority for the Carolina CARES Partnership, particularly among young gay men of color, Ellington says.

“Because HIV and syphilis rates have really impacted the minority gay community, we will continue our efforts to provide HIV prevention to men who have sex with men” and with young transgender persons of color.

The agency remains committed to its original mission of fostering and ensuring a regional approach to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS, he says, and to “meet with compassion and dignity the needs of those affected by the disease.”

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