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CDC HIV/AIDS/Viral Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update
AIDS Clinic Sees Face of Epidemic Change
Patricia Guthrie
October 29, 2003
Atlanta Journal-Constitution (10.27.03) - Wednesday, October

The Ponce de Leon Center in midtown Atlanta opened ten years ago as a one-stop medical resource for HIV/AIDS outpatients. Offering doctors, dentists, dermatologists, numerous other specialists and support groups under one roof, the center was designed to provide comprehensive care and keep patients outside the city's public hospital facility, Grady Memorial.

Whereas once HIV/AIDS affected mostly middle-class, white gay men, over the years the patient profile has changed as HIV/AIDS incidence rises among minorities, heterosexuals, females, the urban poor and rural residents. African Americans make up 29 percent of Georgia's population but accounted for 76 percent of new AIDS cases in 2001. African-American women accounted for 84 percent of all female AIDS cases in the state. Of the nearly 28,000 Georgians with AIDS, two-thirds live in metropolitan Atlanta.

Some of the clinic's clientele are homeless. Fifteen to 20 percent of Atlanta's homeless are estimated to be HIV-positive - some 4,0000-5,000 people. Many are addicted to crack cocaine, some suffer from mental illness, and few adhere well to complicated antiretroviral treatment regimens, nor do they come into the clinic regularly so doctors can monitor the medicines' side effects.

"We're seeing more and more people who don't have the life skills it takes to handle the new drugs," said Angelle Vuchetich, clinic program manager at the center. "What we have now is an urban, poor population. Their ability to do all that is required [to get treated] isn't there." However, center statistics show that the comprehensive care offered there has led to fewer clients skipping appointments and to declines of some common AIDS-related infections.

The Ponce de Leon Center is part of the Grady Health System; many of its specialists are affiliated with Emory and Morehouse schools of medicine and CDC. Last year, the University HealthSystem Consortium selected the center as one of the top three US HIV/AIDS outpatient clinics.