Cleveland loses $1.5 million in AIDS education funding

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CLEVELAND (WJW)-- The battle against HIV and AIDS may soon become tougher to fight in the city of Cleveland.

On Tuesday, officials with the Cleveland Department of Public Health announced the city will no longer receive $1.5 million to fund education and prevention programs.

"I'm angry because we need that money, we need that money. There's just a lot of stigma going on with people who are dealing with HIV and AIDS," Doug Pratt said.

Pratt was attending the closing ceremony, displaying part of the AIDS Memorial Quilt at MetroHealth Medical Center for World AIDS Day commemorations. He designed a patch to honor three of his friends who died within the past year. Although, they died from other causes, he said they all had been living with HIV.

"We still need to be educated. There are some people that still think you can get it from a toilet seat," Pratt said.

"It's just a travesty… We worked with them and we talked with them for two and a half hours and at the end of the day, their decision was firm," said Natoya Walker Minor, chief of public affairs for the city of Cleveland

Late Tuesday afternoon, she and the director of public health announced that effective Jan. 31, Cleveland will no longer receive a $1.5 million state grant for HIV/AIDS education and prevention, including counseling and testing for other sexually transmitted diseases. They said Cleveland has received the money for 24 years and in 2019, expanded services to six Northeast Ohio counties.

"We really don't know why. They didn't give us a concrete explanation," Walker Minor said.

"We have seen a slight decrease in the numbers in Cleveland. Right now, we know that there are approximately 3,270 individuals living with HIV and AIDS in Cleveland," said Cleveland Public Health Director Merle Gordon.

"Treatment is effective, treatment is available, and if somebody is on medication, they can be undetectable. And we know that once you're undetectable, you can't pass the infection on to your partner," said Dr. Ann Avery, interim director of Infectious Disease at MetroHealth.

Avery said education can help reduce new HIV infections, and eliminate stigma and fear.

"We believe that the numbers would be higher, but for these programs, but for these resources... It concerns us greatly," Walker Minor said.

MetroHealth Medical Center is one of eight agencies in Northeast Ohio that receives a portion of the grant money. Avery said the hospital will continue to make sure HIV patients get the care they need.

Tracy Jones, Executive Director of the AIDS Taskforce of Greater Cleveland, released this statement:

“It is very unfortunate that these funds will be lost to the City of Cleveland who administered them for over 25 years. The programs those dollars support are integral to HIV Care and Prevention services in local agencies across the Greater Cleveland area. Those programs must continue to be funded in some capacity or we will see increases in HIV and STI’s in the most vulnerable populations. We have a long and rich history working with the City and we are sad and disappointed by this outcome.”

City health officials also said the jobs of 10 staff members could also be on the line, not to mention those at the eight outside agencies that are affected.

The Cleveland Department of Public Health tells FOX 8 CDPH was previously awarded funding through an application process from the Ohio Department of Health (ODH) for initiatives to prevent and control the spread of HIV and sexually transmitted infections.

According to CDPH, ODH recently notified them that its application for continuing funding will not be renewed beyond January 31, 2020.

Agencies have to score an average of 70% to be eligible for funding, which CDPH did not meet on its application.

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