In Columbia, 2.77 percent of the city’s population lives with a diagnosed case of HIV, a figure that’s eight times the national average according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Richland County’s HIV epidemic is further challenged by the fact that many of those who know of their HIV positive status remain out of the treatment and support network.
That’s something that a new clinic is hoping to change. CAN Community Health announced in 2017 a partnership with the Joseph H. Neal (JHN) Wellness Center and opened a new clinic in Columbia. The Columbia clinic is the nonprofit’s 28th facility, and the first to operate outside its home state of Florida.
“South Carolina ranks 8th in the U.S. and the state’s capital, Columbia, ranks 5th in HIV in large part due to diagnoses among specific young adult populations, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,” says Richard E. Carlisle, CAN Community Health’s president and CEO. “South Carolina not only maintains a concerning HIV epidemic, but Richland County is challenged by more than a thousand citizens who know their HIV positive status but remain out of treatment and do not seek support. We are determined to enhance services that attract this population back to care and promote better health and well-being throughout Columbia.”
The new CAN Community Health clinic, in conjunction with the JHN Wellness Center, will provide five essential resources to those living in the Columbia area and surrounding counties who are living with HIV or at risk for HIV:
1. Easy, confidential HIV testing and treatment
According to the CDC, an estimated 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV, including about 166,000 people who are unaware of their status. Thirty percent of new HIV infections are transmitted by people who are living with undiagnosed HIV. For those who are living with undiagnosed HIV, testing is the first step in maintaining a healthy lifestyle and reducing the spread of HIV. The CDC recommends getting tested once a year.
The JHN Wellness Center in Columbia offers free anonymous and confidential HIV testing. Trained counselors and testers use a simple and quick test that involves a finger stick (blood) collection. Testing is also provided for hepatitis C and other sexually transmitted diseases.
For newly diagnosed patients, the CAN Community Health clinic offers acute and long-term management of HIV. Attending physicians provide and coordinate clinic-based medical care with nurses and other specialized health care providers.
2. PrEP, a daily pill that can prevent HIV
PrEP is for individuals who don’t have HIV already, and it helps prevent the spread of the HIV virus. PrEP stands for “pre-exposure prophylaxis,” which means a daily pill protects you from becoming infected with HIV. Daily use of PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90 percent. The JHN Wellness Center offers a new PrEP program that can help evaluate options and help navigate the steps to begin PrEP at low or no cost.
3. Peer navigators to help those in treatment
Peer navigators are trained individuals from the community who are themselves living with HIV. Peer navigators assist in promoting treatment adherence and foster trust in the individual’s health care. They help clients navigate the world of HIV treatment and services by providing a range of support activities that include:
• Explaining the basics of HIV and self-care to the newly diagnosed
• Connecting people with needed services
• Assisting with appointment reminders
• Accompanying clients to appointments (in some cases)
• Acting as a liaison between clients and their care providers
A peer navigator can help close the gap between healthcare providers and people who need help adapting to a treatment plan.
4. Behavioral health therapy and counseling
CAN Community Health offers mental health counselors which provide therapeutic counseling to couples, groups and individuals to complement medical services in treating the patients overall well-being.
5. In-house pharmacy
CAN Community Health will open a new in-house pharmacy in the summer of 2018 to make it easier for patients to receive the best possible care. Many patients have to arrange for transportation to appointments and by offering them the ability to get prescriptions while at their appointment saves time. Having a dedicated pharmacy also provides greater privacy and security to patients.
The CAN Community Health Columbia clinic provides care and services for those living with HIV, hepatitis C, STDs and other diseases. The new clinic is open Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. and is located at 1813 Laurel Street within the newly named Joseph H. Neal (JHN) Wellness Center (formally the South Carolina HIV AIDS Council).
For scheduling or to find out more information about the Columbia, South Carolina clinic, please visit cancommunityhealth.org or call (803) 849-8430.