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Expert sees silver lining to removal of federal funding for HIV testing in Tennessee

File photo: Getty Images.
File photo: Getty Images.
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HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) programs in Tennessee are set to lose more than half of their federal funding soon as cases of HIV continue to rise.

Earlier this year, the state government rejected more than $8 million in federal funds to treat and prevent HIV cases across the state.

That left several programs in desperate need of money.

But since that decision, the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) has stepped in to help those programs.

And a new funding process could bring some unexpected benefits.

In person or at home HIV tests are provided by Cempa.

The CDC says our area, which they serve, is the next hotbed for infections, meaning these tests are needed now more than ever.

Cempa provides HIV and AIDs tests to hundreds of Chattanoogans, which are free to the community.

The CDC says 1,100 Chattanoogans live with HIV and the number of positive cases continues to rise, from 20 in 2020 to 84 in the last 2 years.

"The heart of the Appalachia, according to the CDC, is the next projected outbreak area for hepatitis C and HIV transmission," says Shannon Burger Stephenson.

Cempa CEO Shannon Burger Stephenson says they used to receive money from the CDC annually for HIV/AIDs preventative screenings, as the federal government allocated $8 million in funds per state.

"We can test for hepatitis C, we can test for HIV," says Stephenson.

But in January, Governor Lee said Tennessee would not accept those funds.

"So, we think that we can do that better than the strings attached with the federal dollars that came our way, and that’s why we made that decision," says Governor Lee.

In response, the CDC found a loophole, giving less than half of the money ($4 million) directly to non-profits.

"Whatever money they were spending needs to be spent in the right way and among the right populations," says Mark Anderson.

It's a decision CHI Memorial doctor Mark Anderson says could be more beneficial in the long run.

"It's going to agencies that have been doing this successfully for years, and they know where to go, who to work with, and how to do it," says Anderson.

But last Thursday, Tennessee's budget added an extra $9 million to HIV/AIDs screening funds, providing more money than ever before to health organizations.

Encouraging groups like Cempa, who welcome the extra money.

"We're just grateful and think it's a good move," says Stephenson.

But she questions how long hope will remain.

"The budget is approved yearly. But we're not certain if they have stuff set aside for a number of years," says Stephenson.

Cempa says they have more than 200 in-person tests available for Hamilton County residents. They also have 100 at-home tests.

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