By Emily Schulz
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Local health officials are asking the Baltimore County Council for a $45,000 supplemental appropriation for a program to help residents at risk of contracting HIV.
The money, which comes from a state grant awarded to the county’s health department, would be used to hire a part-time case manager to help individuals who are sexually active or who use injection drugs obtain prescriptions for an anti-HIV medication known as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
According to the department of Health and Mental Hygiene, daily use of the medication is shown to reduce the chances of contracting HIV sexually by 90 percent and by injection drug use by 70 percent.
Vicki Almond, the chairwoman of the council, brought the supplemental appropriations bill forward during a council working session on Tuesday.
She said the bill is designed to lower the HIV infection rate in Baltimore County, which has seen an 18 percent increase in the number of residents infected with the virus since 2014.
If the appropriation is approved during the council’s Monday meeting, the Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis Navigator Program would officially go into effect on Dec. 18 and run until at least June 30, 2017.
County officials anticipate providing services to 30 clients during the fiscal year.
“We need to convince these men to take this [medication], even if it means meeting with them or taking them to the doctor ourselves,” Almond said. “We really want to decrease this growing rate.”
The proposed $45,334 would be used to fund the salary of one part-time human service associate who will provide non-medical case management services to individuals identified as being at risk of contracting HIV.
The associate would educate individuals who are at the highest risk of HIV infection and link them to medical providers that provide PrEP, which goes by the brand name Truvada. The case manager would also follow up with the individuals to help them schedule doctor’s appointments or go to labs for blood tests.
According to the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the amount of the human services associates contact with the client will depend on the clients themselves, but will be provided at least monthly.
Individuals will be referred for services through the department’s HIV programs and clinics.
“This is a great step for our county,” Councilwoman Cathy Bevins said. “The rise of HIV in Baltimore is significant, and creating this program will hopefully lessen its spread.”
According to Almond, a payment plan will be provided for participants who cannot afford the treatment.