CHARLESTON — Three West Virginia agencies will receive $1.8 million from the federal government to help with HIV prevention, treatment and education, according to a news release.
The money comes from the federal Department of Health and Human Services Ryan White HIV/AIDS program and was allocated by the Senate appropriations committee, on which both Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va, serve.
“We are facing a drug epidemic within the COVID-19 pandemic and every West Virginian has felt the effects of both crises,” Manchin said in the release. “In addition to the rise in substance use disorder and overdose deaths, the drug epidemic has also caused a significant rise in infectious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, and the pandemic has only made it harder to access necessary care for those who need it.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention classifies half of West Virginia’s counties in the top 220 most vulnerable counties in the nation for significant increases in HIV tied to intravenous drug use.
Over the past several months, emergency calls and hospital visits in West Virginia related to overdoses have risen as the pandemic continues, according to data with the state Office of Drug Control Policy.
As efforts to control COVID-19 have sapped resources from health agencies, some report it’s been more difficult to work on other health issues — like the drug epidemic, HIV and hepatitis — in the state.
At both Kanawha-Charleston Health Department and Cabell-Huntington Health Department, leaders say testing for HIV is yielding less positives this year, but there’s also less of it as outreach and community testing became difficult to do amid the pandemic.
Most cases of HIV in the state are believed to be tied to intravenous drug use, per DHHR, a trend that did not begin until 2018.
The link between drug use and HIV has meant more difficulties confronting the disease in recent months: beds at rehabilitation centers have been limited, and some places decreased new intakes for drug treatments during shutdowns for the pandemic.
“The Ryan White HIV/AIDS program funding will expand access to treatment and care across West Virginia in a safe manner during these health care crises so that everyone who needs help can receive it,” Manchin said. “I will continue to fight for funding that helps our state combat the drug epidemic and the pain it has inflicted on our neighbors, families, and communities until we have beaten this terrible epidemic.”
So far in 2020, West Virginia has confirmed 72 cases of HIV, including 17 in Cabell County and 20 in Kanawha County, according to the state Department of Health and Human Resources. In 2019, HIV numbers spiked in both counties leading to a high of 146 cases statewide.
Of the $1.8 million, $1.6 million will go to the DHHR, $150,000 will go to Valley Health Systems and $123,000 will go to South Central Educational Development, per the release.
“West Virginia continues to be a hub for increased understanding and research of medical fields, and I’m encouraged to see this funding coming to our state to increase our research and treatment of HIV-AIDS,” Capito said in the release. “As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, I will continue to advocate for funding that helps increase the health and quality of life for people across our state.”