fbpx

Community Education Group Launches New Website

The Community Education Group's new homepage

Things are a bit shinier around CEG
these days. As you may have noticed,
our website has been relaunched with
more than just a new coat of paint; we’ve
got a whole new design rolling out today.

Thanks to our partners at Fors Marsh Group, for their excellent work on giving our website a much-needed facelift!

Please take a few moments to dig through our site, and if you find any bugs, please drop us a line at info@communityeducationgroup.org, and we’ll address it as quickly as we can.

Photo of an outline of the state of West Virginia made out of white powder, presumably heroin or cocaine, and a rolled up straw for snorting it

Community Education Group RESPONDS: Misreading the Tea Leaves on West Virginia’s HIV Outbreak

At his recent abstract presentation delivered at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI), Dr. R. Paul McClung presented a portrait of a successful HIV intervention in Cabell County, West Virginia. By his estimation, the response to what was then the third HIV outbreak in that state, beginning in January 2018, was a fine example of a successful infectious disease responseMedPage Today described it as “A Blueprint for Public Health Response,” and McClung cited a strong public health infrastructure in the county, including “…a large academic medical center, a large network of community health centers, and a ‘growing capacity to treat substance use disorder,’ such as a syringe service program in place since 2015” (Walker, 2020). Given the consistently negative press both the state and the county receive, this glowing review of Cabell County’s response is a welcome change—but it is also, unfortunately, a largely incomplete portrayal of events as they occurred, and of circumstances on the ground as they still stand.

While the staff of the Cabell-Huntington Health Department, their Harm Reduction Program, and the local community-based organizations and healthcare providers did an excellent job of working together to identify new cases of HIV among People Who Inject Drugs (PWIDs) and others in the county, what Dr. McClung fails to mention is that many—a significant percentage—of those cases identified in Cabell County between January 2018 and December 2019 were patients who were not/are not residents of Cabell County.

Huntington sits on the border of both Kentucky and Ohio and is also surrounded by several rural counties. It serves as one of the primary hubs of drug trafficking in the region, a place where people drive hours and hundreds of miles to get their drugs and, unfortunately, often contract infectious diseases in conjunction with the injection of those drugs. As Dr. McClung’s reporting correctly identified, a majority of the new HIV diagnoses were directly related to Injection Drug Use (IDU). According to the West Virginia Office of Epidemiology and Prevention Services (OEPS), of the 69 new cases identified in 2019, 63 (91.3%) reported IDU as a risk factor (OEPS, 2020). It was not, however, until January of this year (2020) that the state redefined how they count reported cases of HIV, allowing for counties to correctly attribute newly identified cases back to the patients’ counties or states of origin.

Dr. McClung’s reporting leaves out the important fact that little to no investigation has been done on the ground in the rural counties that surround Cabell and Kanawha Counties, the site of the fourth HIV outbreak, identified in 2019. This is not because nobody wants to conduct these investigations, but because the resources simply do not exist for them to be done. Even in Cabell County, the Harm Reduction Program operates with only a handful of staff members for a job that requires ten. In these rural counties, entire county health departments operate with similarly small staffs, yet their responsibilities extend beyond just Harm Reduction and HIV testing. They are also tasked with protecting communities from environmental health risks, and with inspecting houses, institutions, recreational facilities, sewage and wastewater facilities, and drinking water facilities.

When we discuss West Virginia’s response to the inaccurately defined “cluster,” we cannot do so without acknowledging that we do not know whether or not the HIV outbreak was

contained to Cabell (nor if the outbreak in Kanawha Count was contained) simply because neither adequate testing, nor case investigation, has been conducted outside of Cabell and Kanawha Counties. To paint a portrait of a successful public health intervention without addressing the existing gaps in public health infrastructure and surveillance outside of urban areas of rural states is misleading.

When it comes to both drug use and infectious disease, two things are certain: (1) neither are contained solely within urban areas, and (2) both have been growing in rural America for more than a decade. We have yet to effectively grasp or contend with these rural health crises, despite the best efforts of county and state health departments.

Despite Dr. McClung’s accurate observation of Cabell County, there is a greater story to be told and greater needs to be met. We need more resources. We need enough funds dedicated to hiring appropriate staff. We need enough funds to adequately provide infectious disease testing and epidemiological reporting. We need enough funds to provide treatment. Right now, West Virginia’s rural counties lack those resources, putting a strain on Cabell to pick up where they cannot.

References

Driesbach, E. (2020, March 16). Treating patients ‘rapidly and effectively’ helped contain HIV outbreak in West Virginia. Thorofare, NJ: SLACK Incorporated: Healio: Infectious Disease: HIV/AIDS: Meeting News. Retrieved from: https://www.healio.com/infectious-disease/hiv-aids/news/online/%7Bd14dcd…

Office of Epidemiology and Prevention Services. (2020, March 01). HIV Diagnoses by County, West Virginia, 2018-2020. Charleston, WV: West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources: Bureau for Public Health: Office of Epidemiology and Prevention Services. Retrieved from: https://oeps.wv.gov/hiv-aids/documents/data/WV_HIV_2018-2020.pdf

Walker, M. (2020, March 11). West Virginia HIV Outbreak: A Blueprint for Public Health Response – Used four pillars of federal initiative to manage local HIV epidemic. New York, NY: MedPage Today, LLC: Meeting Coverage: CROI. Retrieved from: https://www.medpagetoday.com/meetingcoverage/croi/85378

Community Education Group's Founder and Executive Director, A. Toni Young, with her dog, Hank

So, I’ve Been Thinking: Sharing

CEG’s A. Toni Young, Dr. Orisha Bowers, Amy Atkins, & Dr. Lynn Madden at the Project MO(H)RE announcement

So, I’ve been thinking about sharing. In particular I’ve been thinking that, as CEG starts this journey of working with health departments and Community-Based Organizations across the state of West Virginia, trying to integrate HIV into medically- assisted treatment programs, that our goal— and my goal, even my reason for being on the planet, frankly—must always be to share. I want to share what I know with other communities, and increase the capacity of other organizations to do the work that they do. But most importantly, I want to figure out how we can help individuals.

It seems like an obvious point: it’s important that we share our resources and information. But often we’re all forced into such competitive situations that we don’t instinctively share. We’re reluctant, suspicious about sharing. But if we truly have as our mission public health, or helping our community, then it’s critical that we share our knowledge, our resources, our capabilities, across all spectrums: financial, logistical, even emotional and spiritual.

As Angela Davis said, “We must always attempt to lift as we climb.” And not just because if we don’t lift up the people around us, one day it could be us in need. But because, as we grow and develop, as we get more funding and resources, or as we figure out something useful that can better our community, we need to remember: helping the people in our town, in our neighborhood, in our holler, in our families—that’s the whole point.

That’s what I’ve been thinking…

-A. Toni Young
Founder
Executive Director
CEG

Community Education Group HEPConnect Ad Example

Community Education Group Launches First HEPConnect Ad Campaign

CEG has launched its first digital media campaign as part of its HEPConnect
grant work. This series of ads will be running in West Virginia newspaper outlets in Cabell, Jefferson, Kanawha, Monongalia, Morgan, and Raleigh Counties.

The ad run schedule is as follows:
March/April 2020 – Cabell/Kanawha
April/May 2020 – Morgan
May/June/July 2020 – Jefferson
June/July 2020 – Raleigh
July/August 2020 – Monongalia

Photo of West Virginia HEPConnect Grantees standing in front of the HEPConnect logo at the March 2020 Grantee Convening

Community Education Group Attends HEPConnect Spring 2020 Grantee Convening in Raleigh, NC

The West Virginia Contingent at the HEPConnect Spring 2020 Grantee Convening

From March 10th to March 13th, CEG’s Executive Director, A. Toni Young, and WV Policy Coordinator, Marcus J. Hopkins, attended the first HEPConnect Grantee Convening of 2020 in Raleigh, NC. This event, hosted by the Harm Reduction Coalition and Gilead Sciences, brought together HEPConnect grant recipients and partner organizations from Indiana, Kentucky, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia to discuss organizing strategies, best practices, and other issues related to Harm Reduction efforts and coalition building.

This meeting allowed CEG to meeting with some of its partnering organizations to begin preparing for some of the exciting work we’ll be doing in 2020 and beyond, as well as allowing us to introduce ourselves to other states’ grantees to see how they are working to effect positive change and outreach in their home states.

Community Education Group cog and organization name

Community Education Group Receives $500,000 Grant to Bolster Fight Against HIV in West Virginia

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Community Education Group Receives $500,000 Grant to Bolster Fight Against HIV in West Virginia

Sherpherdstown, WV (March 9, 2020) – Local West Virginia organization, Community Education Group (CEG), has been awarded $500,000 dollars in funding by Gilead Sciences to combat the spread of HIV in West Virginia. This new grant will support CEG’s efforts to improve HIV prevention, testing, screening, and treatment in the state.

“The goal is to help local communities and groups working in public health to understand how the three epidemics are linked,” explained CEG’s executive director, A. Toni Young, “and then get everyone working together to shape West
Virginia’s response to the syndemic in practical, effective, and cooperative ways.”

The $500,000 grant from Gilead Sciences will enable CEG to coordinate community response to the state’s growing HIV crisis by funding programs that use and integrated approach to preventing HIV, viral hepatitis, and opioid usage.
West Virginia is currently experiencing its fourth HIV outbreak in three years, part of a growing syndemic of HIV and Hepatitis C (HCV) driven by the state’s ongoing opioid crisis. As a result, West Virginia has been confronting a multi-faceted public health emergency without the necessary infrastructure or effective coordination among service providers, public health agencies, and policymakers.

Both CEG and Gilead Sciences have been involved with the fight against HIV/AIDS for many years. CEG originally established its reputation not far from West Virginia, mobilizing community response to HIV/AIDS in the District of
Columbia. Gilead has long been developing HIV medications and therapeutic options, including working to expand access to medicines in low- and middle-income countries.

“Gilead is pleased to support Community Education Group’s work to address and eliminate health disparities, especially HIV related disparities in the state of West Virginia. We believe this is a critical time to bring all community stakeholders together, to align with the Administration’s End the Epidemic Plan in order to prevent new HIV infections and improve the health and wellness of those living with HIV.” said Korab Zuka, Vice President of Public Affairs for Gilead Sciences.

Since the spike in HIV cases is connected with injection drug use, CEG plans to work with established regional coalitions that are already addressing the opioid epidemic. The organization’s goal is to integrate HIV education, training, and policy development into those ongoing community efforts. Simultaneously, CEG will build an overarching statewide coalition that can mobilize advocates, researchers, policymakers, and experts to meet with legislators and contribute to future planning for leveraging federal resources, such as funding from the Trump administration’s “Ending the HIV Epidemic” initiative.

MEDIA CONTACT:
Community Education Group
A. Toni Young
tyoung@communityeducationgroup.org
(304) 278-4420

Community Education Group's Founder and Executive Director, A. Toni Young, with her dog, Hank

So, I’ve Been Thinking: Getting Back to Basics

So, I’ve been thinking about how the HIV landscape, and the HIV movement, have changed a lot and are still changing rapidly—and how Community Education Group has changed rapidly, too, over the last few years. Many of you will notice that we haven’t put out a newsletter in several years, and that we no longer do direct service in the District. We are positioned differently now: we do work in DC and West Virginia.

In order to be true to the mission we started out with 25+ years ago, and to fulfill our motto of building stronger, healthier communities, we’ve had to change and grow. We’ve had to take some of the skills we learned and some of the projects that worked successfully in African-American communities in the District, and apply those in white, rural America, in places like West Virginia, where race, class, and access play key roles in the ability of all communities to access services and resources.

We had more than 80 new HIV cases in the state of West Virginia in 2019, mainly among white people who inject drugs or have a secondary connection to PWID. This is an example of how America’s poor in Appalachia are often forgotten in our HIV prevention, care, and treatment strategies, even though they have much in common with black, urban communities experiencing similar barriers to access to care and treatment. I’ve been thinking about black women and PrEP. Our message can’t just be about getting black women prescriptions and getting them on PrEP; it also has to be about getting black women educated about PrEP, aware of, and understanding about PrEP – to be able to raise their hands and say, “I know what that is.”

We’ve got to do a better job with that and I think, in this case, doing a better job means getting back to basics. What’s old is new, and what’s new is old. And so much of what’s missing or needed in our work is a “back to the basics” model. When we look around at biomedical interventions, it’s easy to say, “U=U.” It’s easy to provide PrEP, and we hear messages about “PrEP for all,” but really, PrEP for who?

The poor can’t access it, and black women are often unaware of it, even if it’s free. But we also have to remember the people involved in these interventions.

How do we touch people?

How do we hold people?

How do we embrace communities, now, during some of the most trying times that I can honestly remember?

Add HIV on top of trying economic times and trying political times, with Substance Use Disorder in many communities, and if there’s no behavioral and social support to go along with that—to bring that person, that family, that community together and make them whole—the challenges will still always remain.

We can provide a pill to help end the epidemic, but can we heal the community? That’s the bigger challenge that lies ahead of us: healing. So, that’s what I’ve been thinking about – how do we heal what has created these schisms?

It’s not solely the underlying race, class, and gender schisms, but that is so much of it. In our work, we often don’t talk about the need to be mindful of one another and to take a moment to ask if our colleagues are okay…if we’re okay. Because we do hard work, and in this work, sometimes we see one another but we don’t see one another.

Again, we have to heal not just with a pill, not just with treatment, but with behavioral and social supports that we will need if we are to heal whole communities, whole towns. We often hear Millennials talk about being “disruptors,” but so many systems have been disrupted of late.

How do we heal those systems that have been disrupted? That’s our job, and if we’re in a hole, how can we do it? How can we heal those systems that are so fractured, if we’re fractured ourselves?

That’s what I’ve been thinking about.

New River Bridge Bridge Day Celebration

Community Education Group to Launch New Weekly Blog in 2020

CEG will be launching a new weekly blog in 2020 focusing on some of the main issues facing healthcare consumers in West Virginia and other rural states, including the opioid epidemic, growing infection rates of Viral Hepatitis and HIV, and the state of healthcare infrastructure in the parts of America largely left behind or ignored in the past two decades of healthcare and economic progress.

Stay tuned to CEG’s social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram (@CEGInWV) for more information as we ready our blog site for publication.

Old Street in Fall

Community Education Group Awarded Grant For HIV Work In WV

Gilead Sciences has awarded Community Education Group $500,000 over two years to conduct HIV-specific work in West Virginia. This grant will enable CEG to build a statewide coalition to integrate HIV, Viral Hepatitis, and Opioid Epidemic prevention policies and activities, and address the drivers of, and responses to, all three interrelated epidemics.

This is an important step in developing an overall statewide policy agenda in preparation for West Virginia’s inclusion in the Trump administration’s “Ending the HIV Epidemic” initiative.

Stay tuned to CEG’s social media pages on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter (@CEGInWV) for more information as it becomes available.