Columbia officials meet to discuss ending the HIV epidemic

Updated: Jul. 24, 2019 at 8:21 AM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - Officials from the U.S. Health Resources and Service Administration met with SC public health leaders, researchers, and community members Tuesday to discuss how to end the HIV epidemic in South Carolina.

It’s part of President Trump’s initiative, Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America. It was launched at the beginning of this year an aims to end the epidemic in the next ten years.

South Carolina is one of the seven states the initiative is focusing on. According to the Department of Health and Environmental Control, South Carolina was ranked 6th in 2017 with an AIDS incidence case rate of a little over eight for every 100,000 residents in S.C.

Community members and health officials who gathered in Columbia today said they are excited about the direction the state is moving in, but there is still more work to be done.

“A lot of people think that this disease is over, but it’s not over,” David Pable said. “It’s just not as visible today because of treatment and care.”

David Pable has been living with HIV since 2003. He says there are still thousands of people in South Carolina who don’t have proper HIV healthcare.

The Director of DHEC’s Bureau of Communicable Disease Prevention, Linda Bell, says one difficulty is reaching people in rural areas.

“In rural areas, individuals may not also have access to an infectious disease professional or specialist so telemedicine is an important factor,” Bell said.

The South Carolina DHEC 2018 report shows that HIV in South Carolina is on the rise. Over the last twenty years, the prevalence of HIV has nearly doubled with a little under 20,000 S.C. residents diagnosed with HIV.

The report shows the Richland County has the highest prevalence in the state among many categories.

However, Bell says that treatments exist today that make HIV no longer transmittable.

“I do absolutely believe that in ten years we will have made great successes in terms of ending the epidemic,” Bell said.

The discussion today gave a chance for federal and state programs to work more closely on ending the epidemic in South Carolina.

“Providing the resources for them to understand what our barriers are, but also the great work South Carolina is doing,” Bell said. “We rank highly among high infections but were also ranked highly in terms of the success of our interventions.”

President Trump’s budget proposal included 70 million dollars for the Ryan White HIV AIDS program nationally.

If it’s approved by Congress, officials said some of that money would go to helping people in S.C. get diagnosed and into care. Officials said the funding goes not only towards helping people get treatment but to providing transportation and emergency housing when needed.

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