- 1From the Department of Public Health, East Tennessee State University, Johnson City, Tennessee, Adams School of Dentistry, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and Medical Anthropology & Family Medicine, Boston University School of Medicine, Boston, Massachusetts.
Objectives: Hepatitis C virus (HCV) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) are significant public health concerns, especially given the risks for disease interactions. Rates of HCV and HIV are increasing, especially in rural areas. Local health departments (LHDs) play an important role in rural health care, offering screening, testing, and treatment for HCV and HIV. Gaps persist in LHD resources for meeting these demands, especially in Appalachia and the US South.
Methods: To explore HCV/HIV screening, testing, and treatment approaches and perspectives in south-central Appalachian North Carolina, structured telephone questionnaires were administered to communicable disease nurses and other health department staff directly involved in screening and testing. Mixed-methods data analyses were conducted and triangulated with stakeholders.
Results: Eighteen participants representing 19 counties completed the questionnaire, achieving a saturation sample. Participants reported barriers to screening and testing, including housing insecurity, lack of transportation and insurance, unemployment, and the isolation of living in a rural area. Divergence in perceptions of barriers between public health regions emerged, as did perceptions of who is at risk and use of stigmatizing language about people at risk for HCV/HIV.
Conclusions: This study highlights the impact of LHD behaviors and perceptions on screening and testing, and offers recommendations to improve HCV/HIV screening and testing accessibility in south-central Appalachia, a high-risk region.