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Local Reaction to the DC Epidemiology Update

By Candace Y.A. Montague

June 16, 2011

The epidemic lives on in DC in spite of gains. Credits: pndblog.typepad.com.

The epidemic lives on in DC in spite of gains. Credits: pndblog.typepad.com.

Mayor Gray and officials from the Department of Health released the HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD and Tuberculosis (HAHSTA) Epidemiology 2010 Update yesterday at a press conference. The update showed gains in areas such as reducing new infections and increasing access to care. But in the area of reducing health disparities the solution has yet to be found. As in previous years, little progress has been made to slow down the epidemic among African-Americans and men who have sex with men. Local AIDS Service Organizations expressed mixed emotions regarding the report.

The Executive Summary, which is aligned with the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, shows several gains. There was a significant decrease in the number of newly diagnosed HIV/AIDS cases (1,311 in 2007 to 755 in 2009). There was a whopping 60 percent decrease in newly diagnosed HIV/AIDS cases among Injection Drug Users thanks to needle exchange. The number of new AIDS cases also decreased by 30 percent. Also, a greater number of people (75%) have entered care within three months of diagnosis. Carl Schmid, Deputy Executive Director of The AIDS Institute in Northwest, was optimistic about the numbers. "I think it shows some progress is occuring in the district. Mayor Gray and his team have only been serving for less than a year. He has made HIV/AIDS one of his priority issues. We are pleased with their progress to date."

The major stumbling blocks that have come out in this report remain the same as they have in the past. For starters, 16,721 residents of DC are living with HIV/AIDS. Unfortunately, that makes the prevalence rate 3.2 percent which is still classified as an epidemic. The number of new AIDS cases among older adults (50 years +) has increased from 19 percent in 2005 to 26 percent in 2009. African-Americans still account for the majority of the HIV cases in DC with black males carrying the highest burden at 7.1 percent. Homosexual sex remains the top mode of transmission overall yet among African-Americans heterosexual contact is the primary mode of transmission at 32.4 percent. Ron Simmons, CEO of Us Helping Us on Georgia Avenue, says he is not ready to place the blame on young, gay black males. "The high rates are not because black gay men are engaging in more risky behavior or don't care about condoms." Simmons recently wrote about the "paradigm shift" with black gay males in a post for the Champions of Change newsletter for the White House.

In looking ahead, more efforts will have to be made to reach the youth in DC. Adolescents (ages 15 to 19 years old) continue to comprise the largest proportion of chlamydia (40%) and gonorrhea (34%) cases. People with gonorrhea or chlamydia can more easily contract HIV. Metro Teen AIDS in Southeast says they will continue to promote safe sex practices. "Thanks to a new grant from the Venture Philanthropy Partners we will be expanding HIV education in charter schools next year. We believe that at least part of our local epidemic stems from the lack of high quality education. Of course, having the information won't end the epidemic but at least youth will be able to make more informed choices," stated Adam Tenner, Executive Director. Sexual Youth Minority Assistance League (SMYAL) is also leading the fight among youth in DC. Sean Conner, Development and Communications Specialist for SMYAL, says "SMYAL offers free and confidential counseling, testing and referral through a grant from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Last year alone, SMYAL tested 275 youth between the ages of 13-21 and connected 100% of those who tested positive to wraparound services through a partnership with the Children's National Medical Center Youth Connections Program. SMYAL also conducts the CDC's proven-effective "Many Men, Many Voices" (3MV) intervention, which is designed to prevent HIV and promote healthy behaviors in young men of color who have sex with men (YMSM of color)."

For more information about the Epidemiology Update of 2010, click here.

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