‘It was a gut punch’ | TN to reject federal funding from CDC to fight against HIV

Reports confirmed the Gov. Lee administration’s plans to pass on funding that pays for HIV surveillance, testing and prevention services.
Published: Jan. 19, 2023 at 10:30 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 20, 2023 at 4:32 PM CST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - The state will soon be rejecting federal funding that supports some HIV care services, according to representatives with Governor Bill Lee’s office.

Reports came out confirming the Lee administration’s plans to pass on funding from the CDC, which pays for HIV surveillance, testing and prevention services.

In a statement Thursday night, Lee’s office said his administration is “examining areas where it can decrease its reliance on federal funding and assume increased independence.”

“The State has determined it is in the best interest of Tennesseans for the State to assume direct financial and managerial responsibility for these services,” representatives said.

The news came as an unexpected surprise and disappointment for health advocates like Wayne Smith of Central Baptist Bearden Church in Knoxville.

“It was a gut punch,” said Smith. “If we get them tested and in care, which means get them on life-treating HIV medication, then they can stay healthy for the rest of their life and not ever get that dreaded acronym AIDS. They can live with HIV the rest of their lives. And they also cannot transmit HIV to other people sexually.”

Smith told WVLT News he worries what the news could mean for the 17% of Tennesseans reportedly living with HIV, unknowingly.

Officials did not say where the state would get the money to cover prevention costs or what groups would be impacted. For now, they only told WVLT News, “The state is committed to maintaining the same level of funding, while more efficiently and effectively serving vulnerable populations, such as victims of human trafficking, mothers and children and first responders.”

While the state’s plans are still in their early stages, groups like Central Baptist will still mostly rely on private donations to continue their HIV prevention and treatment work.

Officials with Lee’s office said the state is intent on providing the same level of funding while focusing on “vulnerable populations,” such as human trafficking victims, children and mothers and first responders.