Meningitis: AHF Calls on L.A. County Public Health Officials to Step Down over Poor Handling of Cases

AHF is calling on Cynthia Harding, MPH, Interim Director, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, MD, MPH, Interim Health Officer, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to step down due to the County’s woeful response to meningitis and other health issues.

Three years after Dr. Jonathan Fielding retired as the Director and Health Officer for Los Angeles County, AHF cites a lack of meaningful action and transparency by these interim County officials, hostility toward community involvement, parsing of words and a lack of timely health alerts by the County.

LOS ANGELES (July 11, 2016) Officials from AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) are calling on Cynthia Harding, MPH, Interim Director, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health and Jeffrey Gunzenhauser, MD, MPH, Interim Health Officer, Los Angeles County Department of Public Health to step down from their interim positions due to the County’s woeful response and handling of cases of meningitis that have disproportionately impacted the gay and MSM communities over the past three years.

“For more than two years there has been an unexplained surge in meningitis cases among gay men but the L.A. County Department of Public Health has neglected to keep the community informed and has not worked as closely as necessary with community providers,” said Michael Weinstein, President of AIDS Healthcare Foundation. “Since April of this year, the Department has known that there was a new wave of cases among gay men, but did not make an announcement despite the fact that Pride Celebrations were impending in Orange County, Long Beach and West Hollywood. The first ‘Health Alert’ came June 24th—two weeks after the West Hollywood Pride where hundreds of thousands gather. The County is asleep at the wheels in its response to this potentially deadly—and recurring health threat.”

Officials from AHF will formally call for Harding and Gunzenhauser to step down during Tuesday’s L.A. County Board of Supervisors’ Meeting during which Supervisor Sheila Kuehl will introduce a motion calling for a stepped up community awareness and vaccination plan.

Among AHF’s primary concerns:

  • There is still no definitive plan for mass vaccination for meningitis with community partners.
  • There is no plan to address the sharp rise in STDs, particularly syphilis. No ad campaign; no funding to scale-up testing and treatment; no community meetings.
  • Lack of public announcements about measles, pertussis and Zika virus.
  • Vast unspent funds in HIV programs, including under-spending the Minority AIDS Initiative (MAI).
  • No public campaigns regarding childhood vaccination despite the fact that herd protection was being lost over the last several years.

“It has been more than three years since Jonathan Fielding announced his retirement,” added Weinstein. “A national search is urgently needed to fill this critical position as well as for the medical director position. The health and wellbeing of our community across the spectrum of populations is simply too important.”