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Stemming the Tide of HIV/AIDS in Ohio: Who's at the Helm?

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Ohio's rate of new HIV infections is slightly higher than the national average. (Pixabay)
Ohio's rate of new HIV infections is slightly higher than the national average. (Pixabay)
February 8, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio has the resources needed to stem the tide of the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but according to new research from the Center for Community Solutions, there's no one steering the ship.

Despite advances in treating and preventing the disease, the report finds about 4,000 Ohioans are infected with HIV and the state's rate of new infections is slightly higher than the national average.

John Corlett is the president and executive director of the center, a health, social and economic non-partisan think tank. He says Ohio lacks the coordinated leadership to use its many tools to address the epidemic.

"We had the Affordable Care Act adopted to provide coverage for people, we had Medicaid expansion, we've had advances in medical therapies for people living with HIV, the state liberalized needle-exchange laws,” he points out. “We've got a lot of things happening, but we haven't seen all these things brought together."

Corlett says the governor's Office of Health Transformation has been successful in improving many aspects of the state's health care system. The report suggests it could bring together public and private partners to develop an effective strategy to address HIV/AIDS.

According to the research, the Ohio Departments of Health and Medicaid don't collaborate to track whether people living with the disease are receiving medical care. And in 2015, the state returned $8.5 million in unspent federal Ryan White Part B dollars, funds intended to increase minority participation in HIV care services.

Corlett says Ohio should ask the federal government to use the money in other ways, rather than returning it.

"For example, using some of those funds on medical case-management services, the kinds of services that help patients stay compliant, help them stay on the medications and help them to keep their viral loads suppressed so they can't infect others and remain healthy, as well," he explains.

Action is needed sooner rather than later, says Corlett, because a significant number of the 1,000 Ohioans who will be infected with HIV this year will not be tested early.

"They'll not receive medical care,” he points out. “They'll not have access to the most effective medications we have. And as a result of that, they're able to infect others. And we know what we have to do, but what we need is leadership from the state and others to bring this epidemic to an end in Ohio. "

Corlett notes that 2016 marks the 35th anniversary of the start of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - OH