How DC Measures Up With the National HIV Prevention Conference
By Candace Y.A. Montague
August 18, 2011
The National HIV Prevention Conference concluded yesterday in Atlanta, Georgia. According to the highlights from the conference, DC, for the most part, is ahead of the strategies and suggestions that came from the various presenters at the conference. However there are some areas that could use a tad more focus. The AIDS community will be watching to see if the city government and department of health will use the conference information to bring forth new, bold strategies that will be implemented immediately.
The conference was the stage for the debut of the "Testing Makes Us Stronger" campaign from the Center for Disease Control. This timely initiative is directly aimed at the Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) population. Earlier this month, alarming statistics were released showing that there has been a sharp rise of infections within this population particularly among young, black MSM. In DC, we have been working on this long before the numbers came out. Us Helping Us, a non-profit organization in Northwest dedicated to serving black MSM, has been working with the House/Ball community since 2009 to implement the D-Up! Intervention. This intervention encourages peers to educate one another about safe sex practices.
Another significant point raised during the conference was the need for educating and mobilizing all Americans to reduce HIV infections. Mr. Richard Sorian, Assistant Secretary for Public Affairs at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services shared that recent surveys showed that only seven percent of Americans view HIV/AIDS as a major health concern. However, in the District, 36 percent of the citizens see HIV/AIDS as the top health concern (44 percent of African-Americans rank it as number one). Ideally, the more concern that is raised about the severity of the virus, the more citizens will be apt to listen to information on how to prevent contracting it (particularly if it comes from their physician). DC has two ways to address this issue. First, we have the test and treat program where anyone who tests positive will get treatment not only for HIV but other comorbidities as well. We also have the new AIDS Vu website which shows which communities have the highest concentration of infected citizens by zip code. Knowing where the highest rates are in the city should help health officials decided on a plan of attack.
It is also important to note that DC has a HIV Prevention Strategy in place that was created by stakeholders from the community to address the epidemic from multiple angles.
What We Need to Work On
Outside of reducing our three percent infection rate in general, our efforts towards women and girls could use a boost. Besides the female condom campaign, the District has been sorely lacking in prevention strategies aimed for women and girls. Women and girls need more prevention strategies such as how to negotiate condom use with their partners and the importance of asking to be tested for HIV. The District also needs a better plan to help the Latino population deal with HIV/AIDS. Latinos make up eight percent of the population in DC. They represent five percent of the HIV infections in the city. That number could quite possibly rise if there isn't more effort made to address their needs starting with more culturally sensitive campaigns and real talk about homosexuality.
What more do you think needs to be done? Leave your comments below.
To read more highlights from the conference, click here.
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D.C. HIV/AIDS Examiner
Candace Y.A. Montague
Candace Y.A. Montague has been learning about HIV since 1988 (and she has the certificates from the American Red Cross to prove it). Health is a high priority to Candace because she believes that nothing can come of your life if you're not healthy enough to enjoy it. One of her two master's degrees is in Community Health Promotion and Education. Candace was inspired to act against HIV after seeing a documentary in 2008 about African-American women and HIV. She knew that writing was the best way for her to make a difference and help inform others. Candace is a native Washingtonian and covers HIV news all around D.C. She has covered fundraisers, motorcycle rides, town hall meetings, house balls, Capitol Hill press conferences, election campaigns and protests for The DC Examiner.com and emPower News Magazine.
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