Ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Atlanta
Leisha McKinley-Beach, HIV Program Administrator, Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness
As the new HIV program administrator for the Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness in Atlanta, Leisha McKinley-Beach has one over-riding dream: that everyone ages 13 to 64 in metro Atlanta learn his or her HIV status.
The Black AIDS Institute caught up with McKinley-Beach to find out about her new role overseeing HIV prevention and how she hopes to turn her dream into reality.
Tell us about your new position.
I’m the health program administrator over the HIV High Impact Prevention Pro-gram. So that includes our condom-distribution program, HIV testing, HIV interventions, any prevention policies that affect the work we do in HIV.
What needs to happen in Atlanta to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic?
We need a local HIV strategy. There are many wonderful programs in this city, but there isn’t a local strategy for us to work toward.
The Fulton County Board of Commissioners recently appointed an HIV Task Force Group. When the task force met, the first thing they talked about was developing an HIV strategy. So I am very excited to see where that’s going to take us.
What other initiatives in Atlanta are you excited about?
I’ve always been a supporter of the Greater Than AIDS campaign. We will be implementing Greater Than AIDS as one of our social-marketing campaigns.
We’re going to be focusing on three priority populations. Physicians play a role in HIV prevention, so the first phase will be our Physician Ambassadors campaign.
Our next phase will focus on HIV among women and perinatal transmission. Then later on in the year we’re going to focus on the transgender community. We’ll have some com-munity-engagement sessions; we’ll have social-marketing materials.
We’re very fortunate that we have a Transgender Advisory Committee, so they’re going to be helping us in the development of those materials. We also have an MSM Advisory Committee that is very strong.
What are your thoughts on the HIV Workforce Study, and how will those results impact your work?
This study is historic. It will give health departments, community-based organizations and research institutions an idea of where some of our deficiencies are. We have all of the tools, but do we have the workforce that can implement the tools to have the impact we need to end the epidemic?
For example, when I look at Fulton County, we still reflect a disease-intervention-specialist model. We send people out, they do partner services and in some cases they may be that first point of contact to a client. It’s no longer enough to just talk about “This is what it is,” “This is how you get it,” “This is how you prevent it.” We have advanced biomedical-prevention tools.
Our frontline staff must know how to provide all of the options that are available either to prevent this disease or to help people get linked into care.
Where do you think we stand today regarding the HIV/AIDS epidemic?
When I first started, there was no such thing as biomedical intervention. We had some condoms, and we’d stop you on the street and give you a brochure. We have so many prevention, early-intervention and treatment tools now.
I think about a puzzle. We’ve got all the pieces. If we have a guide or a plan, we can put all these pieces together and end up with a finished product: the end of the epidemic.
What’s most rewarding about your work?
I talk about leadership and I talk about mobilization because people invested in me. They saw me as part of the next generation of leaders in the Black com-munity that would take us farther to end the epidemic. And now it’s my turn to be able to pass the baton off for this next group that, quite honestly, I feel will lead us to the end.
Tamara E. Holmes is a Washington, D.C.-based journalist who writes about health, wealth and personal growth.