AHN, Highmark, and UPMC Join Together Again to Fund AIDS Free Pittsburgh

AIDS Free Pittsburgh (AFP) has received renewed funding commitments from Allegheny Health Network (AHN), UPMC, and new project funding from the Highmark Foundation to support its work towards ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Allegheny County during 2021-2025. Despite most attention on the current COVID-19 pandemic, local health systems continue to fund critical programs to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Allegheny County.

AFP is a collaborative initiative comprised of government agencies, healthcare institutions, and community-based organizations that strive to support and improve the care of people living with HIV/AIDS and other key populations. Over the past five years, AFP has made positive strides in reducing the number of new HIV/AIDS cases in Allegheny County, with a 32% decrease in new HIV cases and a 23% decrease in new AIDS diagnoses from 2015-2019. This is likely due in part to increases in PrEP for HIV prevention and expedited linkage to care for those newly diagnosed with HIV. However, progress is still needed to make HIV screening routine in healthcare settings. Increasing the rate of HIV screening is key to early detection, diagnosis, and linkage to prevention and care services.

AFP received a renewed joint $1.5 million commitment from AHN and UPMC to support operational costs of administering the AFP project over the next five years. This funding represents a second phase of the two health systems' initial 5-year funding commitments (2016-2020). The funding from AHN and UPMC will provide backbone support to all AFP projects, including an HIV screening initiative that is project-funded by an additional $125,000 grant from the Highmark Foundation. AFP will facilitate this two-year program aiming to normalize HIV screening in Allegheny County. As part of the program, AFP will oversee a county-wide digital marketing campaign to reduce stigma around HIV screening and direct community members to accessible HIV testing options that work for them. The AIDS Free Pittsburgh Outreach Subcommittee will collaborate with the community to shape the campaign's messaging. Additionally, AFP will award mini-grants to two or three organizations to pilot innovative HIV screening projects in healthcare and/or community-based settings.

The Jewish Healthcare Foundation (JHF) will continue to serve as the fiscal agent that leads, supports, and convenes AFP's collaborating groups to achieve collective goals and strategies. JHF also approved a five-year, $250,000 grant to support operating costs of AFP's second phase.

JHF HIV/AIDS Project Director Richard Smith said, "We are very happy the Highmark Foundation, UPMC, and AHN have decided to trust the work and vision of AFP. Their commitment to the HIV community will make a lasting, sustainable impact."

"The Highmark Foundation is excited to support AFP, and to collaborate with community-based organizations, as well as state agencies to help fund this important community health awareness and referral campaign," said Yvonne Cook, president of the Highmark Foundation. "This grant will continue the great strides made in reducing the rate of new HIV infections and will promote the importance of early detection in Allegheny County. This is a huge win for our community."

"For decades, the caregivers at Allegheny Health Network's Positive Health Clinic have been committed to providing leading, compassionate care to those in our region who live with HIV/AIDS. With this mission in mind, we are pleased to support AIDS Free Pittsburgh which brings together our region's most robust health care resources in order to make a significant difference in the lives of these patients and the health of our community," said Susan Manzi, MD, MPH, Chair, AHN Medicine Institute.

"Significant progress toward ending the HIV epidemic in our region has been achieved through this initiative," said Steven D. Shapiro, M.D., chief medical and scientific officer, UPMC. "Our clinicians are dedicated to providing rapid access to state-of-the-art HIV care for those newly diagnosed with HIV. We've successfully suppressed the virus in over 90 percent of our patients, keeping them healthy and greatly reducing the chance of them transmitting HIV to others. We look forward to eliminating new AIDS diagnoses and reducing the incidence of HIV even further through AIDS Free Pittsburgh."

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