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A joint partnership between South Carolina and North Carolina health departments and research experts aims to tackle the HIV epidemic that has spread to parts of both states.

The Carolinas are teaming up to target the growing HIV epidemic that has affected thousands of people in both states.

The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control announced in a recent press release that health departments and leading researchers in North and South Carolina have created a "new, collaborative effort" which aims to end the HIV epidemic in the Carolinas. 

Carolinas United to End HIV (CUE-HIV) is a partnership between multiple health and research entities in both states, including SCDHEC, MUSC, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. According to the partnership's mission statement, it will tackle the "disproportionate" HIV issues in the Carolinas driven by the states' "intersection of stigma, poverty, and limited resource allocation."

This initiative is part of a national effort to tackle the HIV epidemic. Rural areas with high occurrence of HIV cases reported will be targeted especially — including Mecklenburg County in North Carolina and all counties in South Carolina.

According to DHEC, HIV is on the rise in South Carolina. The number of people living with HIV/AIDS at the end of each year increased 30 percent from 2008 to 2017.

For the two-year period of 2016 to 2017, Aiken County had 37 newly diagnosed HIV/AIDS cases. Although Aiken was one of the lowest counties in South Carolina for HIV/AIDS prevalence rate, nearby counties, such as Orangeburg and Richland, have some of the highest prevalence rates in the state.

The partnership accredits ease of travel, social media, and online dating with accelerating the spread of the virus across state lines.

The partnership aims to lower the numbers of incident HIV infections in both states by 75% in five years and by 90% in 10 years.

To accomplish this, the initiative will use methods such as identifying high-risk HIV clusters within the two states; co-write grants for Ending the HIV Epidemic; pool state resources in regards to the HIV epidemic; and deploy partner services and disease investigation specialists on both sides of the Carolina border.

For more information, visit scdhec.gov.

Kristina Rackley is a general assignment reporter with the Aiken Standard.