Georgia Rep. Betty Price, in a statement to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Saturday, said her comments on people with HIV that ignited a national firestorm this week were “taken completely out of context.”
Price, the wife of former U.S. health secretary Tom Price, was in a study committee Tuesday when she asked a state health official whether people with HIV could legally be quarantined.
Price said she was just being “provocative.” She said she is not in favor of a quarantine but made the “rhetorical” statement because she was sad and troubled that “too many of our fellow citizens who have HIV are not compliant.”
The health official had presented on the miserable position of Georgia among states combating HIV: Georgia is second only to Louisiana in the rate of new infections. Part of the reason is that more than a third of Georgians with HIV are not receiving care for it.
That is what sparked Price’s comment’s, she said Saturday.
“And I don’t want to say the quarantine word, but I guess I just said it,” Price said in the meeting. “Is there an ability, since I would guess that public dollars are expended heavily in prophylaxis and treatment of this condition?
“So we have a public interest in curtailing the spread. What would you advise or are there any methods legally that we could do that would curtail the spread?”
Price added, “It seems to me it’s almost frightening, the number of people who are living that are potentially carriers. Well they are carriers, with the potential to spread, whereas in the past they died more readily and then at that point they are not posing a risk. So we’ve got a huge population posing a risk if they are not in treatment.”
It’s not a surprise that Price spoke up. Another speaker who set the stage for the comments, Dr. Wendy Armstrong, an Emory professor, director of Grady Health System’s infectious disease program and immediate past chair of the HIV Medicine Association, had called the panel to action.
“We have significant challenges with stigma, with homophobia, with less access to health insurance,” Armstrong said at the beginning of the study committee meeting that morning. “We need to start treating our way out of this disease.”
Armstrong reported that the epidemic had moved into a “more vulnerable” population including African-American men and young people, and that it was concentrated in the South. About a third spread infection without knowing they were infected, she said, and the others were not getting continuous medication.
“We must facilitate testing,” Armstrong told the panel. “Which equires education. It requires decreasing stigma – people are afraid to get tested because then it puts that red H on their chest for the rest of their life. And it requires linking people to care.”
Price said she, too, was dedicated to ensuring that Georgians receive and adhere to a proper regimen of care, and she wanted to “light a fire” to get it done.
Here is Price’s written response Saturday in full.
STATEMENT FROM REPRESENTATIVE ELIZABETH PRICE, M.D.
October 21, 2017
At a House Legislative Study Committee meeting this past week, we were exploring the difficult question of why Georgia ranks 2nd in the nation of new cases of HIV and why too many of our fellow citizens who have HIV are not compliant with the effective treatment of this now chronic disease. This is sad and troubling because we have come so far in HIV treatment, to the point where an HIV patient receiving recommended treatment is no longer able to transmit the disease to another person. This is something to celebrate, especially in stemming the transmission from a mother to her newborn baby.
During my entire professional career as a physician, my 10+ year service on the Fulton County Health Board, and the numerous public service roles relating to healthcare and medicine in which I have served, I have always strived to preserve the health and safety of patients and the public.
I made a provocative and rhetorical comment as part of a free-flowing conversation which has been taken completely out of context. I do not support a quarantine in this public health challenge and dilemma of undertreated HIV patients. I do, however, wish to light a fire under all of us with responsibility in the public health arena - a fire that will result in resolve and commitment to ensure that all of our fellow citizens with HIV will receive, and adhere to, a treatment regimen that will enhance their quality of life and protect the health of the public.
I look forward to continuing to work with all to accomplish this goal.