Kentucky’s Ending the HIV Epidemic Efforts Expand a Syndemic Approach to Reach Vulnerable Communities

Content From: HIV.govPublished: February 08, 20243 min read


OIDP staff visit the Park Duvalle Health Center in Louisville, Kentucky. [Image edited by AI, reviewed by Humans.]

State health officials, local partners, and community members in Kentucky are working collaboratively to advance the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. (EHE) initiative. Kentucky is one of seven states with a substantial number of HIV diagnoses in rural areas prioritized in the EHE initiative that staff from the HHS Office of Infectious Disease and HIV/AIDS Policy (OIDP) have visited in recent months to learn more about how each is implementing EHE.

During the visit to Kentucky in late 2023, CAPT John Oguntomilade, BDS, MPH, PhD, EHE Initiative Coordination Lead for OIDP, and OIDP colleagues conferred with staff at the Kentucky Department for Public Health (KDPH) responsible for implementing the EHE initiative, visited community providers, and participated in a community engagement session. 

Kentucky Expands Harm Reduction, Engages the Divine Nine

During a briefing, the KDPH team discussed strategic partnerships with local organizations and the community to prioritize a syndemic response to address the challenges of HIV, HCV, STIs, mental health, and substance misuse in the state. For example, KDPH expanded harm reduction programs across the state and currently implements 84 programs that are tailored to the local community attributes. The Kentucky EHE program also implements innovative youth outreach in collaboration with the Divine Nine historically Black sororities and fraternities at local colleges, using a status-neutral approach to expand HIV testing and linkage to prevention and care services.

The community engagement session highlighted opportunities to mitigate stigma, further expand outreach to more rural communities, strengthen provider capacity to implement HIV prevention services, and address housing insecurity for communities disproportionately impacted by HIV.

Clinics Innovate to Meet Local Needs

During visits to two community clinics involved in EHE implementation, the local partners discussed work in their communities and beyond:

CAPT Oguntomilade commended Steven J. Stack, MD, MBA, Kentucky’s Commissioner for Public Health, and Tisha Johnson, MD, KDPH’s HIV/AIDS Medical Director, for their leadership and commitment to EHE by facilitating resources to fully staff the KDPH EHE team and for providing support to expand the initiative to rural communities across the state.

Participants from OIDP also included Emily Downes, Management Analyst, and CAPT La'Toya Spencer from OIDP’s Region 4 team. Other participants from KDPH included Lori Armstrong, EHE Lead; Jessie Parker, Prevention Lead; Bob Ford, Surveillance Coordinator; Lauren Elliot, Administrative Specialist; and others.