October 6, 2011
On National Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (Sept. 27), the District of Columbia announced it is launching a pilot program that recruits people with HIV to encourage their peers to get tested. The National Association of People with AIDS (NAPWA), which sponsors the awareness day, is participating in the effort.
"While the District of Columbia has made great strides in fighting the epidemic, we're still having 700 to 800 new HIV diagnoses every year, and the greatest proportion among those new diagnoses is still gay men," said Dr. Gregory Pappas, senior deputy director of the D.C. Department of Health's HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD and TB Administration. "We estimate that there are about 10,000 people in the District of Columbia who are HIV-positive and don't know their status."
Part of an ongoing series of District HIV prevention and testing initiatives, the pilot is modeled after successful New York and San Francisco programs, Pappas said. The cities team with community-based AIDS advocacy and service groups to recruit HIV-positive gay men to engage people they know and persuade them to get tested, he said.
"In the city we have networks of positive people through organizations like NAPWA," said Pappas, noting that the New York program had a 25 percent positivity rate among testers. "We're working with those groups to go out and bring their friends in, bring their contacts in to testing."
The District has a policy of "treatment on demand" for all those testing HIV-positive, said Mayor Vincent Gray and Dr. Mohammed Akhter, director of the D.C. Department of Health. The city provides full care and treatment for uninsured people with HIV/AIDS, Akhter said.
"Treatment is prevention," reminded Frank Oldham, NAPWA's president, since HIV patients whose viral loads are suppressed with medication are much less likely to infect others.