South Carolina Community, State Health Leaders Discuss EHE Accomplishments, Opportunities
South Carolina is one of seven states with a substantial number of HIV diagnoses in rural areas that are a part of the Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S. (EHE) initiative. CAPT John Oguntomilade, BDS, MPH, PhD, EHE Initiative Coordination Lead for the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health, recently met with state health officials, community members, and health center leaders in Columbia, SC to see how they help move the needle forward on the HIV epidemic.
One of their accomplishments is the effectiveness of U=U viral suppression campaigns, which have helped to mitigate stigma associated with HIV. To gather feedback from stakeholders, community-based partners, and people living with HIV from across the state, community leaders and CAPT Oguntomilade held a community engagement session during an HIV Planning Council meeting. Participants said housing insecurity is a major challenge to linking people to HIV care and retaining them in care. They also want to see more innovative ways to expand awareness of and access to HIV prevention services.
The leadership meetings and community engagement session allowed CAPT Oguntomilade to appreciate the dedication of state health officials and their commitment to expanding access to testing and facilitating linkage to and retention in HIV prevention and care services in South Carolina and to support the jurisdictions by sharing opportunities to optimize the response, including best practices from other jurisdictions.
“This visit was a good opportunity to hear directly from the community and those working at the ground level and ensure that our work in crafting policy and identifying program priorities at the national level are aligned with the feedback from the community,” CAPT Oguntomilade said. “Our EHE priorities and interventions will continue to be informed by meaningful community engagement to ensure our program activities are relevant and responsive to the needs of communities disproportionately impacted by HIV.”
Community Health Centers
While in Columbia, CAPT Oguntomilade also visited CAN Community Health and PALSS Health Center. CAN Community HealthExit Disclaimer uses mobile vans to link people to expanded testing and services in several South Carolina counties. CAN also offers Ryan White program services, STI treatment and testing, telehealth appointments in multiple languages, and an on-site pharmacy.
The PALSS Health CenterExit Disclaimer focuses on providing service in a culturally appropriate way using non-traditional approaches to reach communities where they are in order to expand access and linkage to services to mitigate health disparities. PALSS offers free services, including testing, education, case management, transportation, food access, and clinical services.
Ali B. Mansaray, MPH, PhD, Director, Division of STD/HIV & Viral Hepatitis, said the visit encouraged state health department leaders to keep moving forward with their work.
“The message of inclusion, consultation, representation, and partnership resonated with all of us here in South Carolina and left us even more excited about the possibility, and optimally more motivated, to end the HIV epidemic here,” Mr. Mansaray said.
Other participants in the South Carolina Department of Health & Environmental Control meeting included Felicia Pickering, DrHA, MBA, CSPS, Community Engagement Program Manager, Communicable Disease Prevention & Control, STD/HIV/VH Division; Elizabeth McLendon, MA, Community Advocate, Ending the Epidemics SC; and Tony Price, MPH, Prevention Program Manager, Division of STD, HIV and Viral Hepatitis.
About the EHE Initiative
The EHE initiative aims to reduce new HIV infections in the United States by 90% by 2030. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of the Assistant Secretary for Health coordinates EHE across HHS agencies and offices.
EHE’s comprehensive approach focuses resources in the 57 jurisdictions, including South Carolina, where they are needed most and strives to meet people where they are with the services they need. The EHE initiative has scaled up four science-based strategies focusing on ending the epidemic: diagnose, treat, prevent, and respond. For each of these strategic pillars, there have been significant strides toward ending the HIV epidemic. Learn more about EHE accomplishments (PDF, 297KB).