Summer Brings New Public Health Initiatives to Charleston

Contributed by Emma Lydon, special to Holy City Sinner

With Charleston kids enjoying the first few days of their summer vacation now that school is out and with many parents looking forward to the start of summer camp for their children, local organizations and authorities have launched a series of public health initiatives, especially geared towards lower income families, and many of these programs will continue well into the upcoming school year. This is not the first time that the spotlight falls on health-related issues and educational initiatives that are particularly relevant to parents and their children. This time, the focus is on making sure that all Charleston youth have access to tasty and healthy meals, as well as to innovative health care initiatives, and that their parents have the educational resources that they need to keep themselves healthy as well. What is becoming clear is that there is increasing solidarity in Charleston with those live on very modest means.

New Meal Program Set to Launch in Charleston

A new, free healthy meal program is expected to launch in July throughout Charleston and surrounding suburbs, and is a result of the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act. Low income Charleston parents will no longer have to make sense of piles of paperwork, as school districts will be able to apply on their behalf and provide meals to all kids in specific, economically disadvantaged districts. Starting in August, Charleston students in these area will be served a free, healthy breakfast and a hot lunch each weekday. With this new initiative, Charleston will join major cities in 10 other states in extending health meals to a larger number of children than ever before. The participating Charleston schools will join the over 4,000 other educational institutions nationwide that will also be part of this program starting late this summer. Audrey Rowe, representing the Food and Nutrition Service, told the Charleston Chronicle that ensuring that children have a nutritious breakfast can have a "profound impact" on their educational success. The meal program set to be implemented in Charleston is certainly of the more innovative variety. Rather than a traditional, one-size-fits-all cafeteria approach, kids can avail themselves of "grab and go" snack and light meal kiosks, as well as meals served to all kids directly in their classroom.

New Health Screening Programs for Charleston Adults

This summer includes a handful of public health initiatives for Charleston adults as well. Various HIV and other STD screening initiatives are planned by local clinics through the Ryan White Program and the the Lowcountry AIDS Service. Topher Larking of the Lowcountry AIDS Service noted that all sexually active Charleston residents should get tested once every six months, adding that this is especially important, as the South Carolina metropolis is near the top of the list nationally, when it comes to new HIV infections. These STD tests take all but 10 minutes and do not involve any needles (just simply a small prick to the patient's finger), and results are available free of charge within minutes. Doctors diagnose an average of 110 million sexually transmitted diseases in the US each year, and even though the stigma keeps some people away from getting tested, treating any infection early on can eliminate a whole range of potential health problems  that can occur among those who go without proper treatment. The Lowcountry AIDS Service offers Charleston residents a range of preventative educational programs, organizes support groups, provides nutritional counselling and support, as well as free legal services. In South Carolina, African Americans heterosexuals have witnessed a disproportionately large percentage of new HIV cases, with 58% of all new HIV cases in Lowcountry diagnosed among Blacks. Getting tested, however, now often leads to very successful control of the disease and its symptoms.

With Charleston all geared up for the summer, the city's public health care initiatives aim to ensure that residents of all incomes levels are able to enjoy the basic services that they need to keep themelves safe and healthy. With over 27% of all Charleston experiencing poverty during their childhood and with nearly 18% of all women struggling to make ends meet, many of these initiatives (both food and health care related) are aiming to show that Charleston is able to make major strides in the coming months when it comes to social justice initiatives.

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