Right now, the number of HIV cases in the recent Huntington cluster has risen to more than 70. This spike can be attributed directly to intravenous drug use.
With the CDC’s 2016 report that over half of West Virginia’s 55 counties are at high risk for new HIV infections, chances are, even if you don’t live in Huntington, you can understand the threat that this community, and scores of others across our state, are facing.
No one here is immune to the opioid epidemic. To live in West Virginia is to know the devastation of addiction and communities left to confront the crisis of infectious diseases associated with intravenous drug use. At the heart of our understanding is a history of limited economic opportunity and deep desire to change those circumstances.
As an infectious-disease physician, I have treated HIV patients in West Virginia and West Africa. I have seen, firsthand, the similarities in the barriers faced by these populations, including shortage of providers, limited access to medications, travel distance for care, and access to needed specialists. Despite significant advances in HIV care, not everyone can access it.
While life in any low-resource setting comes with challenges, it also means resourcefulness, community cooperation, deep appreciation for friends and family, and an inherent sense of interconnectedness. Because of these shared challenges and values, we must broaden the scope of our search for opportunities by placing ourselves in conversations for solutions at home and throughout the world.
We are in a prime position, not only to share our expertise with those in great need but also to apply the resources and best practices of the international community to challenges that we have in common, working collaboratively for improved shared futures. We can be a leading voice in global heath. And, in being a leading voice, we can expand our opportunities to grow from this crisis and close this chapter in our history.
Global health is more than being able to summon a rapid response to a specific disease threat or natural disaster. It’s supporting the development of health systems through ongoing relationships, training, educational exchanges, funding, advocacy and program collaboration. This is the focus of the upcoming Global Health Summit at WVU Health Sciences on Friday, Oct. 11. Participation in this event is free and open to anyone with an interest in connecting with international partners to expand opportunities for health solutions.
Registration is open online at www.hsc.wvu.edu/geo.
Partnership in support of global health initiatives is, oftentimes, the difference between stability and uncertainty, promptly addressing threats to health and well-being or simply reacting to them. It is the difference between growth and stagnation. Ours is an emerging community in the Mountain State, and we want a diverse collection of participants to be part of it.
Now is a critical time for us to take action. Next month, world leaders will come together in Lyon, France, to formalize goals and aid agreements for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB, and Malaria (the Global Fund), an international partnership that has helped save over 16 million lives and cut the mortality rate for HIV in half. It is hoped that, with a mere 15 percent in increased funding, HIV, along with malaria and tuberculosis, could be eliminated as worldwide epidemics by 2030.
West Virginians have much at stake in seeing HIV eliminated as an epidemic. We have even more at stake if we don’t step up now to share our expertise, open our doors to new opportunities and call for action.
Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., has demonstrated leadership in supporting our efforts and co-sponsoring House Resolution 517, which calls for increased U.S. commitment to the Global Fund. I hope that you will join me in urging Reps. Alex Mooney and Carol Miller, both R-W.Va., to join him, as well.
Sens. Capito and Manchin, a Republican and a Democrat, respectively, have voiced support for the Global Fund in the past — they can continue their leadership by co-sponsoring the companion resolution in the Senate, Senate Resolution 318, by the end of next week.
A healthy future goes hand in hand with economic opportunity, and both are within our reach through global partnership.