Two new cases of HIV were diagnosed in Kanawha County since the last meeting of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department’s HIV Task Force in October, KCHD director Dr. Sherri Young announced Wednesday.
That brings the total number of cases diagnosed in Kanawha County to 18 since the beginning of 2019. The average for a year is 14, and last year there were 17 people diagnosed. While an average of two cases annually are linked to intravenous drug use, this year there have been eight, including the two newest cases.
Young conceded there is a possibility that more than eight of the cases from 2019 involved drug use, as patients self report those habits to doctors or whoever is administering their screenings. There’s also a chance that people who reported using drugs contracted HIV through other means.
There is no proof that the increase in HIV cases this year is due to an increase in testings or screenings in the county. KCHD does not have a record of how many people were tested in 2018 compared to 2019, only of tests that came back positive, Young said.
Young said at Thursday’s HIV task force meeting that people who have been diagnosed in 2019 have been connected to care. The struggle, which many at Wednesday’s meeting emphasized, is keeping them in care and ensuring there are practices in place to make accessing long-term care and medication as easy as possible for the most vulnerable populations.
“Sometimes, getting medicine to the person isn’t the primary issue. It’s making sure they can keep the medicine safely, and get back to their provider for follow-ups,” Young said. “We want this to be something that can be replicated and expanded far beyond the health department, beyond my tenure here. It should be something used for years to come.”
The biggest concern today seems to be transportation, or a lack thereof. People who might be homeless, lack a car or who live in more remote areas can struggle making it to appointments to manage an HIV diagnosis, said Christine Teague, director of CAMC’s Ryan White Program.
“Transportation, we’ve heard of it as an issue, but I don’t think it’s ever come up as much, for me, as it has in the last two months,” Young said.
This also affects screening efforts, where individuals can be tested for HIV and other diseases, like hepatitis C, Young said. Through a grant from the Kanawha Valley Foundation, KCHD is working to expand screening efforts and outreach throughout Kanawha County.
The first of these screenings will be held Nov. 20 at Christ’s Kitchen, in St. Albans. After that, Young said, the department plans to move into Eastern Kanawha County and partner with organizations there for more screenings.
The last HIV Task Force meeting was held on Oct. 9. Since then, several new members have joined the coalition, including representatives from Cabin Creek Health Systems and Solutions Oriented Addiction Response, an organization comprised of people who use drugs, those in recovery and others. SOAR, Young said, could be a great avenue to meet people where they are for screenings and early intervention.
The HIV Task Force will meet again in December, on a date as yet to be determined.