AUSTIN — The largest HIV/AIDS nonprofit care provider in the country is opening a free clinic in Austin in response to the recent crisis that has reached 150 positive new cases.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation will open the full-service HIV treatment clinic in two to four weeks with a pharmacy to come later, both located in Foundations Family Medicine on Main Street.
Dr. William Cooke, Austin’s only physician, will continue to see patients at his general practice office but will soon be aided by infectious disease specialists and a medical benefits counselor.
“He’s done an admirable job in the meanwhile,” AHF spokesman Ged Kenslea said of Cooke. “That was not his vocation — that was not his area of expertise.”
AHF has been operating a mobile HIV testing unit in Austin for the last three weeks in response to the crisis. Kenslea said the mobile unit will remain for now as health officials expect the number of positive cases to top 200.
Austin will be home to the AHF’s 44th HIV clinic in the United States and the first in Indiana.
The pharmacy will be stocked with HIV treatment medication and will likely be staffed by an AHF pharmacist from an Ohio clinic who is also registered in Indiana.
Low-income patients can apply for Indiana’s AIDS Drug Assistance Program backed by state and federal grants that will allow them get the drugs free or at a low cost.
Kenslea said medications that are taken faithfully can reduce the chance of passing on HIV by up to 96 percent and suppress the virus so that it does not advance to AIDS.
More than 80 percent of Scott County residents who have tested positive for HIV are coinfected with Hepatitis C, also contracted through IV drug use.
While Hepatitis C is curable, medication can cost as much as $1,000 per pill, Kenslea said. Though access to Hepatitis C treatment lags behind, AHF has Hepatitis C programs in Los Angeles and are opening one in Florida.
“It is quite likely that we would explore the possibility of Hepatitis C treatment for those who were co-infected,” Kenslea said of the AHF pharmacy in Austin.
The new clinic and pharmacy came from partnerships between AHF and local and state officials including Austin Mayor Douglas Campbell and Rep. Terry Goodin, D-Austin.
Campbell sent a letter on April 14 asking the AHF president for assistance.
“I want to explore the opportunities that your group may offer to help our citizens who have been stricken with sickness,” Campbell wrote. “I am also interested in how your group may help with the revitalization of our community.”
AHF performed more than 155,000 free HIV tests last year in the United States and operates in 36 counties.