D.C. Council Member Under Fire for Sacrificing AIDS Funds
By Candace Y.A. Montague
May 12, 2011
Council member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) wants the health department to spend more money in her ward on health issues. She insists that the department must do more to attend to the health issues that plague her neighborhoods such as obesity, diabetes, teen pregnancy, and hypertension. The trouble is she wants the focus to be taken off of the HIV/AIDS, where it is needed the most. Activist groups, non-profit organizations and citizens are disturbed by this and want answers.
In the Washington Post on Monday, Ms. Alexander stated that "In the past, there has been a lot of focus on HIV/AIDS, which, of course, is a priority, too, but there are so many other issues, and that shouldnt be the sole focus." She is correct about that one. According to the Obesity Report of 2010, Ward 7 has an obesity rate of 40%. The hypertension rate is 42% while the diabetes rate is 13%. However, 12% of all new HIV infections in DC come from Ward 7 and unlike hypertension and obesity, lifestyle changes will not rid a person of HIV. DC Fights Back, an AIDS advocacy group, expressed outrage at Alexander's suggestion to redirect funds. "By diverting HIV funding, [Alexander] is creating a false competition between health conditions. This creates a segmented health system that pits conditions against each other (HIV versus diabetes versus obesity)." It is also important to note that the city council unanimously voted for the Healthy Schools Act of 2010 which addresses some of the health and nutrition concerns.
As for the issues with teen pregnancy, Adam Tenner, Executive Director for Metro Teen AIDS, says "Only a third of the health department budget is spent on HIV and two thirds are spent on broader health issues. If we look broadly at HIV prevention services most of those services are geared at reducing sexual risk taking which ideally would also translate to helping to reduce teen pregnancy. I was a little shocked by the council member's comments. She's been an ally in reproductive health including HIV."
Ward 7 residents and workers also expressed their disappointment with Council Member Alexander's remarks. J'Mia Edwards, Testing Coordinator for the Emergency Room at United Medical Center, stated, "I think she sounds crazy to even suggest that the health department take funds from individuals who are positive and those who are affected by the disease. What about us positive individuals who access those funds for medical treatment, medication, and food? She must want the rate of infection to increase because individuals will pick up risky behaviors just to survive out here." Joell Royal, Ward 7 resident, says this epidemic is critical and needs to remain a top priority. "If funding streams are cut and used to promote other health disparities this will create a huge gap in services and limit access to treatment and care within this area that is already underfunded. It is important as a citizen of this ward that myself, and others advocate for the voiceless in protecting the dignity and lives of people living with HIV and AIDS East of the Anacostia River."
Yvette Alexander did not respond to a request for a comment regarding her statement.
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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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