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HIV/AIDS atop agenda for Atlanta’s new chief health officer, Fulton’s expanded services

Llera and his mother One of the images from Atlanta photographer Billy Howard's series on AIDS in Atlanta, displayed in 2017 at Emory University, included the piercing remarks from Ricardo M. Llera's son, Ricardo M. Llera: 'Mother, don't worry. It's just a virus. I'll be O.K.' File/Credit: emory.edu

By David Pendered

Two significant changes in public health and HIV/AIDS programs are underway in Atlanta and Fulton County. The measures include: Atlanta’s newly created position of chief health officer; and Fulton’s expansion and renaming of its HIV services program to manage President Trump’s goal of ending the HIV epidemic in the United States.

Llera and his mother

One of the images from Atlanta photographer Billy Howard’s series on AIDS in Atlanta, displayed at Emory University in 2017, included the piercing remarks from Ricardo M. Llera: ‘Mother, don’t worry. It’s just a virus. I’ll be O.K.’ File/Credit: emory.edu

Trump delivered the message about eradicating HIV/AIDS in his 2019 State of the Union speech.

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has created the position of chief health officer and charged the city’s new CHO with a call to:

  • “[B]uild coalitions across the city to reduce new HIV transmissions, asthma rates, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses affecting the Atlanta community.”

Bottoms has appointed the CHO, choosing an expert on HIV/AIDS, according to a statement released Thursday by her administration. Angelica Geter Fugerson was named the city’s first CHO.

This is the description of Fugerson’s background as provided in the statement from the mayor’s office:

  • “Dr. Angelica Geter Fugerson is a 15-year health expert with experience working at the federal, state, and local levels. Her research and program experience have focused on HIV/AIDS and public health services as well as equity and health disparities in the Southern United States. She is a former Research Fellow of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, has published more than 25 articles and presented at numerous national and international scientific meetings.
  • “She holds a DrPH in Health Behavior with a minor in Biostatistics from the University of Kentucky, and MPH in Behavioral Sciences and Health Education from Emory University. Dr. Fugerson is an alumna of the Health Policy Leadership Fellowship of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute of Morehouse School of Medicine.”

Fugerson’s degree, DrPH, is not a medical degree. It represents a doctoral tract for health care professionals who plan to pursue a career in public health.

Fugerson takes office as an emerging line of research shows that low-income neighborhoods – such as those in Atlanta – incubate a slate of chronic diseases that are thought to contribute to poor health outcomes.

Angelica Geter Fugerson

Angelica Geter Fugerson

Heart failure, for instance, is more common in poorer neighborhoods than in wealthier neighborhoods, regardless of race, according to a report by the American Heart Association, which observes:

  • “Neighborhood socioeconomic factors significantly predict heart failure incidence independent of individual income, level of education, and traditional cardiovascular risk factors.”

Fulton County has established the Department for HIV Elimination. The Board of Commissioners approved the renaming of the former Ryan White Program at its July 10 meeting.

Fulton County Chairman Robb Pitts said in a statement:

  • “The new name speaks to our ultimate goal of eliminating new cases of HIV by 2030, and aligns with the County’s strategic effort the ‘All People Are Healthy.’ Fulton County will continue to take a leadership role in efforts to end new cases of HIV.”

This is the reasoning behind the new name, according to the legislation, which observes that to meet Trump’s call to eradicate the disease, Fulton County is to administer additional funds to reduce HIV infections in four metro counties: Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett. The legislation states:

  • “’Ryan White Department’ does not readily convey to the public the purpose and function of the department and is not where the general public would logically look to find out about HIV services in Fulton County.
  • “Fulton County’s ‘Ryan White Department’ (which administers the Ryan White grant and funds subrecipients to provide direct services) is similar in name to the Fulton County Board of Health’s ‘Ryan White Program’ (which is one of the subrecipients funded to provide direct services) which causes confusion for clients and for persons seeking services.
    Ryan White

    Ryan White became a national poster child for HIV/AIDS concerns after he was infected with the virus during a blood treatment for a hemophiliac condition. Ryan was banned from school in Indiana in 1984 and died in 1990. Credit: wikipedia.com

  • “’Ryan White Department’ fails to recognize the role the department will play in administering new funds to Fulton, Cobb, DeKalb, and Gwinnett Counties under the President’s initiative ‘Ending the Epidemic: A Plan for America.’
  • “Under the President’s ‘Ending the Epidemic’ initiative the currently named Ryan White Department will receive additional targeted funding to reduce new HIV infections in Fulton, Cobb, DeKalb, and Gwinnett Counties by 75 percent in five years and least 90 percent in 10 years.”

In Trump’s 2019 State of the Union speech, Trump made the following remarks, according to the transcription posted on the White House website:

  • “My budget will ask Democrats and Republicans to make the needed commitment to eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years.  We have made incredible strides.  Incredible.  (Applause.)  Together, we will defeat AIDS in America and beyond.  (Applause.)”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services offers an array of information about the initiative on this webpage.



David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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