News, South Broad C.H.C
“When it comes to HIV rates nationwide, New Orleans and Baton Rouge typically rank in the top three,” says Graham Patterson, Manager of the AIDS Education and Training Center (AETC) in New Orleans. “Louisiana ranks in the top five of all states nationwide. This is something we would like to change.” The AETC’s mission is to educate healthcare providers in Infectious Disease medicine, particularly HIV, Hepatitis-C and sexually transmitted infections (STI’s).
Patterson says, “we do this through a combination of in-person and online trainings, as well as through clinical consultations and preceptorships.” All the AETC’s services are offered on a cost-free basis. The program is federally-funded and with locations across the U.S. it’s no surprise that New Orleans has a site too. The AETC site located in New Orleans is part of the South-Central Region responsible for expanding HIV education for healthcare providers across Louisiana.
In 2018, the local AETC site joined forces with Access Health Louisiana (AHL). Patterson says the move not only helped to further the AETC’s mission of education, but it has helped the agency become more adept at tracking the outcomes of its efforts. AHL is the largest Federally Qualified Health Center system in Louisiana with 29 community health center and school-based health center locations in eleven parishes and growing.
“AHL has been supportive of implementing advanced educational programming meant to specifically prevent HIV and more effectively treat people living with HIV and Hep-C,” says MarkAlain Déry, DO, MPH, FACOI. “My positions as Chief Innovation Officer with Access Health Louisiana and as Medical Director for the AETC Program gives me access to communicate with medical and non-medical professionals about effective treatment options for patients. This state-wide pipeline of communication is essential to eradicating inefficient care for HIV patients.”
Dr. Déry currently cares for more than 130 HIV patients locally. He works to help every patient get to an “undetectable” stage which means that the viral load is so low that blood tests cannot detect HIV. It also means that HIV can no longer be transmitted to one’s partner, effectively helping patients live longer. Dr. Dery says this is why the U=U movement is so critical. “The U=U message is revolutionary in its ability to free people living with HIV by empowering them to have active, healthy sex lives, without fear of transmitting the virus to their partners.” His personal goal as a physician is to ensure that every person living with HIV in Louisiana has easy access to high-quality care which is delivered by caring healthcare professionals whom patients feel well served by.
“HIV medications are now simple (often one pill a day), effective and relatively easy to prescribe and manage,” states Patterson. “We are at a point where we could see an HIV-free generation in our lifetimes! The challenges now are identifying everyone who is living with HIV through increased testing, and then getting them into care and keeping them there.”
Education to increase the number of healthcare providers who are testing and treating, along with efforts to decrease stigma around HIV are therefore at the forefront of the work being conducted through the AETC/Access Health Louisiana partnership. All AHL locations offer free, private HIV testing regardless of insurance and income and walk-ins are always welcome.
The New Orleans AETC office is located inside the Contemporary Arts Center at 900 Camp Street. If you are a healthcare provider interested in getting more training on HIV or know someone who is, please visit www.aetc.online. There you can find information on upcoming trainings, as well as contact Access Health Louisiana AETC staff who can help you tailor trainings to your needs.