Shepherdstown-based 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 grant will enable CEG to coordinate community response to the state’s growing HIV crisis by funding programs that use an integrated approach to preventing HIV, viral hepatitis, and opioid usage.

“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.”

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.

Building a Coalition

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,” said Korab Zuka, vice president of public affairs for Gilead Sciences. “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.”

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.

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