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HIV/AIDS Rate in America’s Capitol Exceeds Some African Nations
by Kilian Melloy
EDGE Contributor
Monday Mar 16, 2009

Dr. Anthony Fauci, NIH infectious diseases program director

A new report shows that the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Washington, D.C., are "higher than West Africa" HIV rates, and that heterosexual transmission of the disease is increasing, although the highest incidence new infections is still among men who have sex with men.

The Washington Post reported on the new study, which only accounts for Washington, D.C. residents who have gotten tested, prompting the report’s authors to note, "we know that the true number of residents currently infected and living with HIV is certainly higher."

A one percent rate of infection would be enough to regard the epidemic as "generalized and severe," the article noted.

The article quoted Washington, D.C. HIV/AIDS Administration director Shannon L. Hader, who said, "Our rates are higher than West Africa."

Added Hader, "They’re on par with Uganda and some parts of Kenya."

Hader noted, "We have every mode of transmission going up, all on the rise, and we have to deal with them."

The principle modes of HIV transmission are unprotected sex between men, unprotected heterosexual sex, and intravenous drug use, the article said. The new report shows a 22% increase in HIV/AIDS over three years ago.

The increase is discernible in all demographics, whether racial or geographical. African-American men were hardest hit, the study indicated: the demographic alone showed a seven percent infection rate, with 33% of African American men who were HIV positive reportedly contracting the virus through heterosexual contact.

Three percent African American women in the District are HIV positive, the report says, due to increasing transmission through heterosexual contact.

Among Caucasians, over three-quarters of HIV cases (78%) were among men who have sex with men; among Latinos, sexual contact among men accounted for 49% of infections, the article said.

Only one ward out of the District’s eight wards did not reflect an increase in HIV/AIDS rates, a development that the report anticipated would "have significant implications on the District’s health care system," the article reported.

A separate report prepared by George Washington University’s School of Health and Health Services looks more closely at heterosexual transmission of HIV, noting that only three out of ten heterosexual respondents reported using condoms during their most recent sexual encounters, while three out of five said that they knew whether they were HIV positive or negative.

The National Institutes of Health’s infectious diseases program director was quoted in the article.

Said Dr. Anthony Fauci, "This is very, very depressing news, especially considering HIV’s profound impact on minority communities."

Added Fauci, "And remember, the city’s numbers are just based on people who’ve gotten tested."

Said D.C. resident Ron Simmons, a gay African American, "You have a high incidence of HIV among African Americans, and a lot of African Americans live in the city."

Simmons, who the article said is with a support group, went on to say, "D.C. also has a high number of gay men, and HIV is high among gay black men."

Said Charlene Cotton, a D.C. resident who was diagnosed as positive five years ago, "You need to start at home and talk about it."

Added Cotton, "It’s so hush-hush."

Said Washington, D.C. mayor Adrian Fenty, "In order to solve an issue as complex as HIV and AIDS, you have to step up," the article said.

"It’s the mayor and certainly other elected officials. But it’s also the community.

"You have this problem affecting us, and you tell people how serious it is and it literally goes in one ear and out the other."

But D.C. city councilor David Catina, who chairs the city council’s health committee, had hard words for the District’s government, saying, "Frankly, there can be no excuse for the state of the HIV/AIDS Administration that I found in 2005.

"I cannot speak to why it was not a priority previously" added Catina. "For years prior to 2005, mayors and previous individuals allowed things to exist in an unacceptable way.

"And I do blame this government for part of the epidemic we’re confronting," Catina added.

The article said that the AIDS Office had lacked resources, and that the office’s critics had voiced doubts about the way its existing resources had been used.

Also called into question was a Congressional ban on using District tax revenue for needle exchange programs, possibly driving the infection rate higher. The article noted that the ban had been rescinded in 2008.

The one bright spot in the report was an indication that more people are getting tested, leading to earlier detection for those who are HIV positive. Early detection and medication is crucial in ensuring that HIV positive individuals live longer lives and enjoy better health.

The article tied the improvement in early detection to the fact that publicly funded testing had enjoyed a 70% increase over the last three years.

Kilian Melloy reviews media, conducts interviews, and writes commentary for EDGEBoston, where he also serves as Assistant Arts Editor.

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