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A Look in the Rearview Mirror: Washington, D.C., and HIV/AIDS in 2010

By Candace Y.A. Montague

December 6, 2010

As an action-packed year for the HIV/AIDS community draws to a close, TheBody.com takes stock of 2010 in a new series of articles, "HIV/AIDS Year in Review: Looking Back on 2010 (and Ahead to 2011)." Read the entire series here.

Washington, D.C., is a city with an elephant in the room called AIDS. Everyone sees it. No one acknowledges it. Well, hardly anyone. The people who do notice it are working hard to get it out of here. And just like mere mortals pushing against a 3-ton pachyderm, the advocates and nonprofit organizations have put forth a valiant fight against AIDS. Their efforts so far seems quite amazing to the outsiders. There have been rallies, summits, passing of the bill, passing of the buck, debuts and departures. Here's a month-by-month look in the rearview mirror at AIDS in D.C.

Candace Y.A. Montague

Candace Y.A. Montague

January: Housing Works and Campaign to End AIDS started the year with a rally in front of the White House. President Obama floated the idea of temporarily stopping the funding for all of what he called non-defense discretionary spending. This funding pause would have lasted for approximately three years.

February: Before D.C. was belted by blizzards, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced the appointment of 25 new members to the Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA). PACHA provides advice, information and recommendations to the Secretary regarding programs and policies intended to promote effective prevention of HIV disease, and to advance research on HIV disease and AIDS.

March: Ahhhh! Finally we thawed. The third annual Epidemiology report was released showing that the number of new AIDS cases declined 33 percent from 786 in 2004 to 525 in 2008. Also, from 2004 to 2007 there was a 30 percent decrease in D.C. residents dying from AIDS. However, the number of people living with HIV in D.C. has risen by one-third from 12,428 in 2006 to 16,513 in 2008.

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The Health Care Reform bill passed. While most local organizations were pleased with the bill overall, some other organizations weren't shouting victory. There were some kinks, such as the Early Treatment for HIV Act (ETHA) not allowing states to expand Medicaid to people with HIV before they get sick with other illnesses, that were not so exhilarating. That would have taken some of the burden off of ADAP.

April: During one of the worse allergy season in years, we celebrated an anniversary in the park. Campaign to End AIDS celebrated five years of service. A quiet celebration in Anacostia Park almost seemed unfitting for such a vigorous group of crusaders. Yet they pressed on.

Late May: The Office of National AIDS Policy hosted a summit on Black males and HIV/AIDS. It was the first of its kind for the White House; and since one out of 16 black men will receive an HIV diagnosis in his lifetime, it was more than on time.

June: Temperatures rose on the thermostat and in the Department of Health. Dr. Shannon Hader abruptly resigned as chief director of D.C.'s HIV/AIDS Administration. A highly respected and experienced physician whose work spanned two continents, Dr. Hader was known to be very responsive and compassionate about the epidemic. She was the 12th person to hold the position in the past 21 years. There was no official reason given at the time for her departure but when she's ready to talk, the D.C. HIV/AIDS Examiner will be ready to listen.

Mpoderate! (a subsidiary of La Clínica del Pueblo) made its debut as the first center for Hispanic/Latino GBT youth in D.C.. La Clínica del Pueblo (LCDP) has been a sanctuary for the D.C. Latino population to access quality and culturally sensitive health care. The opening of Mpoderate, which means empowerment, served as an extension of that health care. [Read an interview with Jose Ramirez, one of the driving forces behind Mpoderate!, talking about the work of the program.]

The Other City, a documentary film about AIDS in D.C. from the frontlines, debuted at the Newseum. It was the first time a filmmaker took a long, candid look at the battle in D.C. and the hurdles that must be crossed to make real changes in our city.

July: While we sweltered through the humidity outdoors, we sweated something bigger than the temperature indoors. The National HIV/AIDS Strategy was released after 15 months of community discussions, meetings and revisions. Most of the local nonprofits and advocacy groups were pleased with the results. However, Housing Works, which has an office in Northwest, was not exactly jumping for joy. When CEO Charles King came to town during this month, he turned heads in true ACT UP style by interrupting the President's remarks during a reception.

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The Washington AIDS Partnership launched the D.C.'s Doin' It campaign, using a $500,000 grant from the MAC AIDS Fund to distribute 500,000 free female condoms through five non-profit organizations. Female condoms have been redesigned to be easier to use, and the price was lowered.

August: A mayoral forum was sponsored by D.C. Fights Back at Eastern Market on AIDS in the city. It was disappointing, at best, to see how little the candidates knew about AIDS and how much they didn't have a plan for fighting it in the city. One candidate openly admitted, "I didn't even know there was a National HIV/AIDS Strategy." Enough said.

September: Back to school and basic human rights. Many advocacy groups would say that housing is one of those basic human rights. The housing waiting list, which was once just over 600 last December, catapulted to over 800 people at last count. During this month, Vincent Gray was the Democratic primary winner over current Mayor Adrian Fenty. Gray said, in an interview with the D.C. HIV/AIDS Examiner, that he was very concerned about the housing situation in D.C.. Let's hope the best is yet to come from Mayor-elect Gray.

October: Let the coup d'état begin. Translation: It's time for a Rubber Revolution. Straight from the braintrust of the D.C. Health Department comes a new social marketing campaign called The Rubber Revolution. This campaign was designed to encourage people to not only have a condom but also to actually put one on.

My prediction for 2011: I predict very few changes for the upcoming year. Mayor-elect Gray will have his hands full with trying to balance the budget and right the wrongs of outgoing Mayor Fenty. Some of his efforts will indirectly affect people living with HIV such as bringing more jobs to the city (thus improving financial status) and attempting to continue the reform of D.C. Public Schools (hopefully addressing the issue of sex education in schools). He will probably not do much to improve the housing situation, which would save lives. Members of the D.C. council have already expressed wanting a new D.C. that will attract an artistic, creative capital class. The not-so-hidden message there is that D.C. needs some more rich people.

The promise of the 2012 International AIDS Conference will force the city to clean up a few messes here and there. This year the 2012 D.C. Community Coalition was formed to be a part of assuring that D.C. has an active, visible role in the IAC 2012. Perhaps this watchdog group can lean on the D.C. government to finally acknowledge that elephant in the room and start a trail of peanuts going out the door.

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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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