A petri dish with an silhouette of the state of West Virginia in the culture

Community Education Group in WV

In 2019, CEG opened a new regional office in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle, to begin the arduous task of attacking, from a policy perspective, the myriad health crises faced by West Virginians. These crises include: the fourth HIV outbreak in four years, the highest rate of Hepatitis C in the U.S., the highest rate of Hepatitis B in the U.S., the highest rate of overall drug overdose deaths in the U.S., and the highest rate of opioid-related overdose deaths in the U.S.

In our research, we found that none of these crises are unrelated; they are all part of an untenable cycle involving numerous social determinants of health, Substance Use Disorder, Injection Drug Use, lack of healthcare access, and poor health literacy—both generally, and specic to infectious disease. Moreover, we have determined that these issues cannot be solved by direct service provision, alone.

CEG is working to build a statewide coalition of infectious disease specialists, HIV advocates, Viral Hepatitis advocates, Medication-Assisted Treatment providers, Harm Reduction Programs, health department ocials, local ocials, and patients. This coalition will work to bring together organizations and providers that focus solely upon individual aspects of these various crises, to develop an overarching strategy to combat all of these interconnected healthcare issues at every step of the way.

So, what does this mean? It means convincing MAT providers and general practitioners to include HIV and Viral Hepatitis testing and education as part of their service provision. It means convincing infectious disease specialists to begin working with MAT providers to link their patients living with HIV and Viral Hepatitis into SUD treatment. It means bolstering local health department testing and linkage eorts by helping local advocates create new AIDS Service Organizations and Community-Based Organizations to help extend these eorts outside of the health department walls and into local communities.

This statewide coalition will also work with CEG to craft new policy proposals that will push for greater funding, greater access, and a more integrated and comprehensive outbreak response and preparedness landscape in West Virginia.

We are still in the beginning steps of this eort and will have more to share with you throughout 2020, so stay tuned to CEG’s social media pages on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (@CEGInWV) for more information as it develops.

2019, CEG was one of a handful of West Virginia-based organizations to receive a HEPConnect grant funded by Gilead Sciences and the Harm Reduction Coalition. Using these funds, CEG will be partnering with county health departments in Berkeley, Jeerson, and Morgan Counties in the Eastern Panhandle to provide harm reduction supplies (at least 5,000 clean syringes, naloxone, and wound care kits) in support of those counties’ existing Harm Reduction Programs, as well as developing a marketing campaign with those departments to increase awareness of their harm reduction services.

These partnerships will allow CEG to provide support for linking these departments’ clients to HIV/Viral Hepatitis care and treatment, STI screening, MAT for SUD, and other healthcare and psychological care services. In return, CEG will receive much-needed data regarding harm reduction operations in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle. Stay tuned to CEG’s social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram (@CEGInWV) for more information as our media campaign develops.

And image of a finger being pricked to gather a blood sample ostensibly for an HIV test

University of Kentucky/Community Education Group CHAMPS Collaboration

CEG is advising the University of Kentucky in developing a peer-based community engagement strategy for promoting HIV/HCV testing, replicating CEG’s Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Prevention Services (CHAMPS) model statewide in Kentucky. CEG originally pioneered CHAMPS in Washington, DC, recruiting and training community health workers including ex-offenders, people living with HIV/AIDS, and individuals with histories of substance abuse.

Community Education Group's Founder and Executive Director speaking on a panel at a meeting in Mexico City in 2019

Una Conversación Communitaria: Cura y Más de VIH (A Community Conversation: HIV Cure & More)

As part of the lead-up to the 2019 International AIDS Society (IAS) conference in Mexico City, CEG collaborated with local NGO partners Casa de la Sal and Clínica Especializada Condesa, as well as Mexico’s Centro de Investigación en Enfermedades Infecciosas (CIENI) and the Washington DC-based Martin Delany Collaboratory (MDC) BELIEVE program, to present a two-day pre-conference event on July 18-19, 2019. Hosting more than 300 attendees, Una Conversación Communitaria brought local people living with HIV/AIDS, NGO workers, students, and public health professionals who might otherwise have been unable to experience IAS 2019 together with international researchers, scientists, academics, and community organizations offering global learning opportunities. The event also helped ensure that the voices of the Mexican people could still be included in the international dialogue about HIV/AIDS, at a time when the Mexican government has cut back the resources available to local NGOs. Podcast of the event is available here.

Harm Reduction in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle

Responding to CDC reports about a spike in Hepatitis C infections across numerous West Virginia counties, and thanks to a grant from the Harm Reduction Coalition’s HEPConnect Initiative, CEG is currently working in collaboration with the Exchange Union to expand harm reduction services in West Virginia’s Eastern Panhandle. West Virginia leads the U.S. in opioid and drug overdose deaths, a trend that is not only troubling in itself but also because injection drug use and substance abuse are key drivers for communicable disease. With more than half of the state’s counties at high risk for Hep C and HIV, CEG’s goal is to get out in front of the problem before it reaches epidemic proportions by expanding the state’s focus beyond opioid death reduction and abstinence-only chemical dependency programs, to include safe syringe programs and linkage to care.