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HIV cuts may lead to rise in cases, health official fears

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A local health leader fears that HIV cases are likely to rise in Kanawha County because of cuts to testing programs.

The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources will see a more than $200,000 cut in federal funding to its Division of STD, HIV and Hepatitis. The cut is part of a national strategy calling for a redirection of funds to parts of the country with higher numbers of HIV, according to a DHHR release from earlier this week.

As a result, the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department won't receive federal funding for HIV testing this year, KCHD Executive Director Rahul Gupta said.

The department still plans to offer testing, but will have to make cuts, he said.

Even if one less person is tested, cases of the virus will rise, Gupta said.

"Even if it's one person that we miss ...because of the high risk behavior, we will have a exponential rise, not a sequential rise but an exponential rise in the rates of HIV in our community in the years to come," Gupta told the health board at its regular meeting.

Studies have shown that once people are tested, even if they don't have the virus, they reduce the high-risk behavior that can lead to getting HIV, Gupta said. 

People who test positive earlier live longer because once they know they have HIV, they can get treatment, Gupta said.

 "If you can find people [HIV positive] early in life, that actually helps them live longer because they … get treatment," Gupta said.

Last year, the health department received $20,000 in funding for HIV testing and supplemented that with $26,000 of its own, Gupta said.

Gupta said the health department intends to continue offering free HIV testing with its rainy day fund and will look for alternative sources of funding.

Some options for cutting back could be reducing the number of days each week the health department offers testing and limiting the testing services to Kanawha County residents only. Gupta said he would hate to have to restrict testing to only those who live in the county.

"That's the problem when you're demanded to do more with less and we're demanded to do more with less," Gupta said.

In other business, the Kanawha-Charleston Board of Health also approved the countywide implementation of a restaurant rating system for Feb. 1.

Under the new rating system, sanitarians will assign each restaurant a color-coded rating of green for "excellent," yellow for "good" and orange for "fair" compliance with the food code.

The ratings will be assigned according to the number of critical and non-critical violations given to a restaurant. Along with the ratings, restaurant management also must post a list of their violations at the business.

Beginning Feb. 7, the health department will post online the inspection reports of restaurants in the county. Those restaurants that are inspected on Feb. 1 and thereafter will have a color-coded rating as well, KCHD Sanitation Supervisor Nasandra Wright said. Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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