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HIV testing affected by cuts

Federal cuts to HIV programs could limit local residents' access to testing and counseling services for the disease.

West Virginia will receive about $211,000 less funding for HIV prevention from the Centers for Disease Control this year, said Loretta Haddy, director of the state Department of Health and Human Resources' office of epidemiology. That includes $92,000 usually funneled to local health departments for HIV and AIDS testing.

Health departments previously were reimbursed $30 for each positive HIV test and $20 for each negative test. Those payments stopped after Dec. 31, 2012.

Dr. Rahul Gupta, executive director of the Kanawha-Charleston Health Department, said the cuts would cost his agency about $20,000 a year. The health department already was supplementing those HIV funds at about $40,000 a year, taken from its general funds.

Gupta said he does not want to stop HIV testing, so the department will dip into its rainy day fund to cover costs while officials look for an alternative source. He said using rainy day money is not a long-term solution.

"That's not a strategic way to go," he said. "We're going to have to figure out what to do.

"Our people need services. What do you do when you have a large county with the largest number of people living with HIV, and the funding gets stripped?"

In 2011, the latest available data, there were 557 people in Kanawha, Clay, Boone and Putnam counties living with HIV or AIDS.

Gupta said he would talk with members of the Kanawha-Charleston Board of Health to figure out how the department could continue providing testing services with less money.

"If we were doing Cadillac before, it may have to come down to a Chevy," he said.

The department currently provides HIV testing five days a week during regular business hours. Gupta said it may have to reduce the number of days the service is available.

"We're going to do whatever we can to sustain this program," he said.

Gupta said he considers testing an "invaluable service" that benefits many Kanawha County residents as well as people from outside the county. He said people tend to reduce high-risk behaviors even when test results come back negative.

The state still will provide free testing supplies and laboratory services for HIV tests. Haddy said the reimbursements were used to pay health department personnel to conduct the tests, as well as pre- and post-screening counseling sessions, which are required by state law.

Gupta said his department spends $3,000 to $7,000 a month to pay doctors and nurses to conduct the tests.

The health department conducted about 1,200 HIV tests in 2012.

Haddy said the CDC cut HIV prevention funding in West Virginia in an attempt to trim its budget, redirecting the money to states with higher numbers of HIV cases.

There are about 1,900 people living with HIV or AIDS in West Virginia

"In some high prevalence areas, you'll see those kind of numbers in a year," Haddy said.

Only 72 new cases of HIV and AIDS were identified in West Virginia last year.

The DHHR will receive $1,050,600 in HIV prevention funding from the CDC this year, down $617,000 from two years ago.

Last year, the DHHR cut per-patient HIV test reimbursements to all but 15 of West Virginia's 55 counties.

Even without the funding, counties appear to be making do. Haddy said each of the affected counties, except one, has continued to provide HIV testing services.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or zack.harold@dailymail.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/ZackHarold.

 


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