CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – According to the Center for Disease Control, Kanawha County is experiencing what it calls the nations ‘most concerning’ outbreak of HIV. The CDC defines the term outbreak as ‘the occurrence of disease cases in excess of normal expectancy.
Epidemiologist Shannon McBee for West Virginia Bureau of Public Health says, “In the beginning of 2019 Kanawha County has had 51 newly diagnosed cases of HIV associated with injection drug use.”
Kanawha County had one fewer HIV case in 2020 than New York City did in 2019. New York City’s population is 150 times larger than Kanawha County’s.
On a national level, the number of people diagnosed with HIV due to interveinous drug use declined.
But that is not the case in Kanawha County. Some attribute this to the elimination of harm reduction and needle exchange programs, which have been a hotly debated topic in Charleston.
West Virginia State Health Officer Dr. Ayne Amjad says, “Any harm reduction program has tools that have to be looked at very carefully so as far as the health department, or the bureau, or even my personal opinion goes we have to look at everything from top to bottom, but we support any harm reduction program.”
And health professionals like Dr. Shelda Martin who works closely with HIV patients says a new plan needs to be put in place.
“If what we currently have in place clearly isn’t working if we have 51 new cases. So somehow or other, I think we’re all smart people , we should be able to sit down at the table and hammer out something that can work for our community.”Dr. Shelda Martin
Health experts say while the pandemic has hampered efforts to fight the outbreak, progress will be made if everyone comes together. “It’s going to take all of us at the table to approach this with full community response.” said, McBee.