"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.
"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.