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Atlanta AIDS epidemic as bad as in some developing countries

A deadly disease is rampant in Metro Atlanta, and scientists are calling it an epidemic.

Researchers and doctors told WSB-TV that Atlanta is the epicenter of an AIDS epidemic, comparing some neighborhoods to developing African countries.

According to WSB, AIDS research officials said the number of people affected is "staggering."

"Downtown Atlanta is as bad as Zimbabwe or Harare or Durban," said Dr. Carlos del Rio, co-director of Emory University's Center for AIDS Research.

Del Rio said the disease shifted from one that mainly affected gay men and drug users in the late 1980s to a disease that now affects just about every population, but particularly African-Americans with limited access to health care.

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"Don't have food on your table, have kids to take care of and somebody says you have HIV, that's just another problem that you have," del Rio said.

Another problem was a lack of leadership and mismanagement in Fulton County, where most of Atlanta is located.

A 2015 Fulton County internal audit of its HIV Prevention Program cited poor management after the county squandered millions of CDC grant dollars meant for HIV programs.

Ultimately, the county had to return millions to the CDC.

Related: CDC: Half of gay, bisexual black men will be diagnosed with HIV

"Well, it certainly was a bruised eye," said Fulton County Chairman John Eaves.

The County Commission asked for audits of the embattled Health Department and demanded changes in procedures.

"I did meet with city officials directly and assured them that processes were in place and make sure going forward monies would be better accounted for," Eaves said.

A recent study released by the CDC shows why that funding is so critical: In Georgia, the risk of HIV diagnosis leaps to one in 51. Metro Atlanta’s population rose to more than 5.7 million residents last year.

"We should not be having an epidemic of that proportion in a country like ours," del Rio said. "This is not Africa; we have resources."

Fulton County now has a new public health director, and HIV programs like mobile testing units are more visible around the city. The van travels to ZIP codes with the highest number of HIV cases.

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