Emory’s partnership with Gilead Sciences, Inc. aims to tackle the Southern HIV/AIDS epidemic one community at a time

Despite major advances in the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS, the Southern United States is still facing a crisis.

Although the Southern U.S. accounts for only 38% of the country's population, 52% of new HIV diagnoses occur in the region. Socioeconomic factors such as intergenerational poverty, lack of access to adequate health care, and high rates of unemployment—as well as enduring stigma, systemic discrimination, racism, and a variety of barriers to accessing HIV services—all contribute to the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Southern United States.

To address this urgent problem, Gilead launched an unprecedented, ten-year, more than $100 million collaborative commitment called the Gilead COMPASS Initiative® (COMmitment to Partnership in Addressing HIV/AIDS in the Southern States). Gilead makes strategic contributions to support organizations addressing disparities in health care and advancing health equity for those most disproportionately affected by HIV and AIDS in the U.S. South.

Forty years ago, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported an outbreak of a rare form of pneumonia among gay men in Los Angeles. This strange cluster of cases turned out to be the beginning of an epidemic that still plagues communities around the world—acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), caused by human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

 James W. Curran, James W. Curran Dean of Public Health at the Rollins School of Public Health, is internationally renowned for his role in the fight against HIV/AIDS from the earliest days of the epidemic. After being tapped to lead the CDC task force charged with determining what was behind the first cases, Curran led the nation’s efforts in the battle against HIV/AIDS for 15 years prior to becoming the Dean of Rollins in 1995.  Emory scientists, educators, and physicians have played a key role in addressing HIV and AIDS. From leading prevention research to treating and counseling thousands of patients, Emory has been a local, national, and international leader.

Emory’s faculty and researchers are deeply committed to addressing this critical public health issue and are grateful to be part of the Gilead COMPASS Initiative®.

“At the 40-year mark since this disease emerged, we’ve come so very far. We’ve been able to reduce mortality and slow the transmission rate, but current therapy is not curative and must be continued for life. And, there are more than 100,000 people in the U.S. who are undiagnosed but don’t know it. Emory has a long legacy of developing and supporting HIV/AIDS research and interventions, and the COMPASS Initiative is a powerful partnership to instigate change.” 

James W. Curran, MD, MPH, James W. Curran Dean at Emory University, Rollins School of Public Health


In 2018, Emory University was honored to be selected as one of the four coordinating centers (Emory University Rollins School of Public Health; University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work; Southern AIDS Coalition; and Wake Forest University School of Divinity) engaged with this initiative, and serves as COMPASS’s administrative lead, managing implementation of the strategic plan and ensuring programmatic alignment across each of the centers. Over the last three years, Emory, Gilead and partners have worked hand-in-hand with community organizations on the frontlines of tackling the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the Southern U.S. 

“Organizations throughout the Southern U.S. provide essential HIV services that, when done together, collectively, have greater impact than any one organization alone,” says Linelle Blais, PhD, principal investigator. “Emory is honored to partner with Gilead and these lifesaving community-based organizations to fight the stigma associated with HIV, get more resources into the hands of those providing excellent services, and ultimately, reach many more people—including those who have historically had limited access to care.” 

Emory COMPASS Accomplishments + Impact 

Emory has partnered with more than 100 organizations and provided grant writing training, sustainability planning, strategic planning, mentoring, leadership coaching, and communications plan development.

Distributed more than $4 million to community organizations in the U.S. South to build infrastructure and support sustainability.

Developed state-of-the-art, interactive maps to help people locate HIV services in the region and estimate drive-times. This also helps identify “service deserts” so that new or expanded resources can be focused on the areas that need it most. Services include HIV stigma reduction, harm reduction, overdose prevention/reversal, and trauma-informed care.

Leveraged the AIDSVu online mapping platform to inform public health decision making and empower communities. Created in 2010 by Emory’s Center for AIDS Research and Gilead Sciences, Inc., AIDSVu makes HIV-related data widely available, easily accessible and locally relevant.

Developed a directory of organizations providing services for people living with HIV, including mental health and substance abuse services for people living with HIV and/or for LGBTQ populations in the Southern U.S.

Incorporated the meaningful involvement of people living with HIV in Emory’s planning, work, and service delivery.

Helped 25 organizations leverage COMPASS funding to raise additional programmatic support.

“We remain so grateful for this unique opportunity to strengthen our effectiveness. We’re a bustling, vibrant center with passionate, active staff serving so many people daily. And we’re often held together with bubble gum and duct tape. This funding has enabled us to invest needed expertise, resources, energy, and time into our infrastructure to ultimately improve our service to often disengaged, marginalized populations. Together, our work will save lives. We value and feel grateful for our relationships with you, individually and collectively. And we recognize how blessed we are to have benefitted from these relationships. Thank you for your empowering, encouraging, truly transformative work.”

Kristofer Fegenbush, Chief Operations Officer, The Pride Center at Equality Park, one of Emory’s community partners

“The Emory University Rollins School of Public Health has extensive experience in HIV research, training and technical assistance, which has helped local organizations increase leadership, improve their capacity to help communities access quality healthcare services and reach more people impacted by HIV,” said Korab Zuka, Vice President, Public Affairs, Corporate Citizenship, Gilead Sciences. “As a Gilead COMPASS Initiative® Coordinating Center, the school has done important work to advance the progress of the initiative and lessen the impact of the HIV epidemic in the U.S. South. We are inspired by Emory and its continued commitment to end HIV.”

COMPASS Ten-Year Goals

Improve access to and quality of health care services for people living with HIV in the Southern U.S.: 

Increase access to stigma-free care that incorporates wellness, trauma, mental health, and substance use considerations and is backed by a sustainable infrastructure to ensure longevity.

Increase local leadership and advocacy in the South:

Build a robust network of strong local leadership for advocacy focused on resource allocation and evidence-based policies to address HIV and AIDS in the Southern US.

Change public perception of HIV and AIDS in the Southern U.S.:

Create strategic communication campaigns that resonate with residents in the U.S. South to counter fear-based stigma and educate local leaders to support policy changes that better address the needs of people living with HIV.

“COMPASS is unique in that it focuses on the Southern United States where the epidemic has disproportionately impacted marginalized and under resourced communities. This demonstrates the need for more innovative models like COMPASS that are transforming the public perception of HIV through creative avenues such as communication campaigns that counter fear, discrimination, and stigma. We are able to help equip organizations so they can continue to grow and flourish while on the path to being sustainable, incorporate best practices, and introduce new strategies and techniques through our technical assistance and trainings.”

Kia Colbert, MPH, CHES, Emory COMPASS Coordinating Center Director

“Emory has been at the forefront of research and interventions that have led to advancements in HIV care and prevention. We’re focused on the sustainability of organizations on the frontlines. By engaging and developing new leaders, cultivating new and non-traditional partnerships, and diversifying funding, we are drawing on our collective talents to end HIV in the Southern U.S.”

Neena Smith-Bankhead, MS, Administrative Lead of Cross Center Initiatives, Emory University

Emory Coordinating Center's Goals

 To build sustainable organizational capacity among HIV service organizations to increase access to quality care in Southern states by:

Increasing financial investment in Southern U.S. organizations to build capacity.

Providing training, mentoring, and coaching opportunities to Southern U.S. leaders that increase knowledge of core organizational development competencies, available community resources, and best practices.

Accelerating capacity building, community engagement, and partnership development through shared learning opportunities.

"We know that the HIV epidemic in the Southern U.S. is perpetuated by racism, poverty, lack of health insurance, stigma, and long driving distances to reach care, among other reasons. Emory, Gilead and partners are working to strengthen organizations in strategically placed locations to fill existing gaps in service. We are proud to partner with programs led by people of color, people living with HIV, sexual and gender minorities, and others who are already making a difference in impacted communities.”

Patrick Sullivan, DVM, PhD, Co-Principal Investigator

Linelle Blais, PhD, Principal Investigator (center), Patrick Sullivan, DVM, PhD, Co-Principal Investigator and Geospatial Mapping SME Liaison (center back row), Kia Colbert, MPH, CHES, Emory COMPASS Coordinating Center Director (2nd from left), Neena Smith-Bankhead, MS, Administrative Lead of Cross Center Initiatives, Emory University (3rd from right) 

Linelle Blais, PhD, Principal Investigator (center), Patrick Sullivan, DVM, PhD, Co-Principal Investigator and Geospatial Mapping SME Liaison (center back row), Kia Colbert, MPH, CHES, Emory COMPASS Coordinating Center Director (2nd from left), Neena Smith-Bankhead, MS, Administrative Lead of Cross Center Initiatives, Emory University (3rd from right) 

For more information, please contact Kia Colbert at or 470-829-4769.