By Community Education Group
When Community Education Group (CEG) set its sights on addressing the syndemic of substance use disorder, viral hepatitis, and HIV in Appalachia, they brought with them more than 25 years of experience providing connections along the continuum of care for individuals from underserved and under-resourced communities.
Now 30 years old and firmly rooted in Appalachia, the nonprofit has doubled down on their efforts to address the syndemic, and have joined Emory University’s Together TakeMeHome (TTHM) initiative, which seeks to distribute more than 1 million HIV self-tests across the country.
“Being a part of this project is a call back to the work we’ve done for 30 years, all while simultaneously addressing the barriers to health resources that Appalachia faces,” says CEG Executive Director A. Toni Young. “Through TTMH, individuals can request tests to be mailed to them, and once they’ve tested themselves, they’re able to see their results in the comfort of their own home. This is huge for communities whose healthcare infrastructure is fragmented, and it’s huge for Appalachia.”
CEG joined TTMH as a technical assistance provider, so the organization helps train community based organizations on how to participate in the program and how to get connected with other local organizations to build coalitions that overcome existing barriers to healthcare access. However, CEG’s work around expanding access to HIV testing kits doesn’t start or end there.
Over the past two years, CEG has been collaborating with the CDC Foundation to support their nationwide self-testing efforts, working with 52 community organizations across the country to establish or expand HIV self-testing programs. “Self-testing is a powerful tool for public health, and through our work with the CDC Foundation and other community partners across Appalachia, we were able to help organizations in Kentucky lift the restriction on test kit distribution by community organizations,” says CEG Director of Policy Tricia Christensen. “Community-based organizations are the key to building a comprehensive continuum of care, and lifting this restriction reduces the stigma around HIV and allows more people to know their status and access the care they need.”
Due to the impact of the opioid epidemic in West Virginia and Appalachia, HIV rates are disproportionately high in the region.“There’s this myth that HIV doesn’t exist in Appalachia, but we know that’s not true, and the data is supporting that,” says Young. “National HIV Testing Day is on June 27, and it’s a good time to take control of your health and get tested. HIV isn’t a death sentence, and CEG is here to connect you with resources.”