National initiative against HIV epidemic would direct resources to Kentucky, Missouri

PADUCAH — A new national proposal to end the HIV epidemic would direct resources to Kentucky, Missouri, and other states and territories.

President Donald Trump announced the initiative during his State of the Union speech Tuesday. It aims to reduce new HIV infections in the U.S. by 75 percent in the next five years and by at least 90 percent in 10 years.

“My budget will ask Democrats and Republicans to make the needed commitment to eliminate the HIV epidemic in the United States within 10 years,” said Trump. “We have made incredible strides.”

In 2017, 38,739 people were diagnosed with HIV in the U.S., American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico, the Republic of Palau, and the U.S. Virgin Islands in 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. The CDC estimates about 1.1 million people were living with the virus at the end of 2015, the most recent year for which data is available. It’s estimated that about 15 percent of those people did not know they were infected.

More than 700,000 Americans have died from HIV since 1981, Heath Secretary Alex Azar says.

Heartland Cares is at 1903 Broadway St. in Paducah.

The Department of Health and Human Services says the new initiative would direct “additional expertise, technology and resources needed to end the HIV epidemic” to places with the highest number of new diagnoses. This includes 48 counties, Washington, D.C., and San Juan, Puerto Rico. The initiative will also direct resources to seven states “that have a substantial rural HIV burden,” including Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma and South Carolina.

Those areas, which account for more than half of new HIV diagnoses in recent years, would receive the funds in a phased approach, the Department of Health and Human Services says.

Testing at Heartland CARES is free.

Locally, the Heartland Cares clinic in Paducah serves just under 400 people throughout west Kentucky and southern Illinois who are living with HIV/AIDS. The nonprofit clinic provides clients with medical, financial, housing, food and other types of assistance. The clinic also offers outreach and education programs and free HIV testing.

“We work on easing the burden to get to care and to take medication,” said Heartland Cares Executive Director Donna Reeder.

Dr. Anita Fleenor-Ford with Heartland Cares says over the years, the number of new HIV cases in the area has been steady.

“It will fluctuate some, but I think we had close to 50 last year, and so that’s on the higher end. But maybe mid-40s to 50,” said Fleenor-Ford.

Fleenor-Ford says she welcomes the renewed attention to the HIV epidemic brought forth by the new proposal.

“We’ve had a lot of complacency with HIV, and I think part of that was there was a peak of where it was all over the TV in my era of 80s and MTV and stars that would come out, and then you don’t hear about it and the education is less about it,” said Fleenor-Ford.

For the initiative to work, one of the most important steps is for people to get tested. Fleenor-Ford says HIV testing at Heartland Cares is not only free — it’s confidential and quick.

“It usually takes less than about 20 minutes to do the test, get the result. They don’t leave without the result,” said Fleenor-Ford.

If a person tests positive, the clinic can help them with medications, which have advanced dramatically over the years.

“I’ve been here about 20 years — and part of that was in Chicago — and remember when we first started getting some of the new medications: multiple pills and difficult to take. And now, we have multiple one-pill, once-a-day regimens for patients to take, and they’re very tolerable,” said Fleenor-Ford.

Reeder said, although Heartland Cares gets federal funding for its support services, the clinic does not get federal dollars to fund its education programs and free HIV testing. Instead, it must seek money from other sources, such as fundraisers.

Anyone who wants to get tested can call Heartland Cares at  270-444-8183 or 877-444-8183 to set up an appointment. The clinic also accepts walk-ins. Heartland Cares recently moved to its new location at 1903 Broadway St. in Paducah. It’s open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays (closed between noon to 1 p.m.), and open on Fridays from 8 a.m. to noon.

Heartland Cares will hold its annual SpringTINI fundraiser on May 23 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m on the Broadway side of Market House Square. During the event, people can sample signature martinis, flavored teas and specialty hor d’oeuvres while learning about the services that Heartland Cares provides. There will also be a silent auction and musical performances. Click here for more information.

Click here for more information on the new initiative to end the HIV epidemic.

You can find out more information about this story and others by following Chris Yu on Facebook and Twitter.