June 9, 2010
D.C.'s AIDS director is leaving abruptly after almost three years dedicated to cleaning up what was widely considered a dysfunctional program.
The resignation of Shannon L. Hader, announced Tuesday, is effective July 15. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty said D.C.'s chief medical officer, Nnemdi Kamanu Elias, will serve as interim director.
The AIDS office is responsible for contracting with community organizations to provide HIV-related care and services. "I think it's going to be a challenge without her leadership," said A. Toni Young, director of the Community Working Group, which provides HIV tests and distributes condoms.
When Hader, a former CDC epidemiologist in Zimbabwe, accepted the director's position in August 2007, the office had a long and widely publicized history of substandard performance. The office jeopardized the stability of some contracting agencies with late or missing payments for services rendered. Some agencies that did receive money spent it on lavish travel.
"There's no question that we dug ourselves into a very substantial hole," said D.C. Council member David A. Catania. "There's no question that she was working to change that."
The manner in which the resignation was announced suggests some tension between Hader and her colleagues. The news release announcing Elias' appointment did not mention Hader.
During her time as director, Hader worked to provide a precise epidemiological portrait of HIV in the District. A report in March 2009 showed that 3 percent of D.C. residents had tested positive for HIV, exceeding the 1 percent threshold that defines a generalized epidemic and one of the worst rates in the country.
The revelation inspired corporate donations to address the problem from companies such as Pfizer, Nike, Facebook, and the National Basketball Association.
"Her loss is catastrophic," Catania said.