Health officials in Tennessee health officials say they will reject federal funding. For groups that serve residents living with HIV.
Earlier this week, the Tennessee Department of Health announced it would no longer accept grant money from the Centers. for Disease Control and Prevention earmarked for HIV testing, prevention and treatment.
In an email reviewed by NBC News, the health department told some nonprofits that provide these services that the state would. reject federal funding as of June, relying solely on state funding thereafter. “It is in the best interest of Tennesseans for the state to accept a direct financial and managerial response to these services,” the email read.
When reached for comment by NBC News, a health department spokeswoman said “the letter speaks for itself.”
An estimated 20,000 people in Tennessee are living with HIV, though not all will be affected by the cuts. There was no further guidance on how the state planned to finance its own programs.
The move shocked HIV experts.
“I don’t understand why the state would defund health care,” said Diane Duke, president. And CEO of Friends for Life, a Memphis-based group that provides services to people living with HIV. Friends for Life was among the groups that received notices from the state “It’s offensive,” he said.
Shelby County, where Memphis is located, has one of the highest rates of HIV and AIDS in the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2020, 819 of every 100,000 Shelby County residents had HIV.
And they were the only ones who got an official diagnosis.
“A lot of people are walking around with HIV, and they don’t even realize it,” Duke said. A major part of the work Friends for Life carries out is testing for viruses. “Once someone tests positive, we are able to take care of them immediately,” he said.
Greg Millett, director of public policy at the AIDS Research Foundation, amfAR. An advocacy group, called the decision “devastating.” He worries that Tennessee health officials are setting a dangerous precedent.
Millett said the CDC provided $10 million in HIV funding to Tennessee. It is not yet clear how much of that money will be returned.
He said he was concerned that the state’s directive would lead to discrimination against marginalized groups at risk of HIV
“The vast majority of new HIV cases are among gay and bisexual men, the transgender population. Heterosexual women as well as people who inject drugs,” he said.
“We have the tools we need to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic prevention and care,” Millett said. “If Tennessee doesn’t use those tools, doesn’t use CDC funding and focuses on the groups. Most at risk for HIV, we have the potential for an outbreak.”
The CDC provides millions of dollars to states each year for HIV testing kits. Aondoms and a drug to prevent infection, called PrEP.
In a statement to NBC News on Friday, the CDC said it was unknown if Tennessee — or any other state — planned to stop accepting grant money.
“We have not received official notification from the Tennessee Department. Of Health to withdraw CDC’s HIV prevention funding,” the CDC said. Without such notification, CDC will automatically continue to make payments to the State.
I8n Tennessee need to stay healthy are hindered or the public health capacity to respond to the HIV outbreak and end this epidemic is hindered.”