Sex Issue: AIDS in the District

This story is part of The GW Hatchet’s 2006 Life Section Sex Issue.

As part of freshman Hayley Richardson’s volunteer work, she makes and distributes condom kits and crack kits.

Distributing free condoms and clean syringes, Richardson regularly works with Prevention Works, an organization striving to reduce the spread of HIV in the nation’s capital.

“There’s a lot of talk among the GW community, but what about getting out in the trenches and working with these people?” Richardson said.

“It isn’t pretty and it’s messy and it’s hard and uncomfortable, but it’s real,” she added. “And you can’t put a value on human connection. It just exists in the realm of the abstract until you see what it’s doing in the community and it’s just eroding it.”

Students might not know it, but D.C. has some of the most dismal sex-related statistics in the country.

New cases of AIDS are appearing in D.C. at a rate nearly 10 times higher than the national average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In 2004, the CDC reported that the District had 179.2 new AIDS cases per 100,000 people, the highest rate in the country.

Other sex-related statistics are almost as depressing. According to 2002 CDC statistics, D.C. has a teen pregnancy rate higher than any state. Nearly 7 percent of D.C.’s females ages 15 to 19 have given birth to a child. The national average is 4.3 percent.

“We shouldn’t feel that GW is not a part of this. We aren’t removed from D.C. The one-in-20 statistic doesn’t apply to Southeast, it applies to all of D.C.,” said Student Global AIDS Campaign chapter leader sophomore Julieanne Burridge, referring to a popularly quoted estimate from the D.C. Appleseed Center for Law and Justice that says that one in 20 people living in D.C. is infected with HIV. The Administration for HIV Policy and Programs reported in September that nearly one out of 50 D.C. residents is living with AIDS.

The American College Health Association estimates that one in 500 college students nationwide is HIV positive.

“Some people become complacent and they view it as only people in Africa. ‘Only people in Africa have AIDS and it doesn’t affect me here.’ That’s just not the case,” Burridge said. “There are a lot of people with affected family members and people they know.”

Student Global AIDS Campaign and national non-profit Hope’s Voice have arranged for GW to be the first stop on the “Road to Hope” tour, sponsored by a coalition of HIV/AIDS service providers, advocacy groups and research organizations.

Prevention Works’ Program Manager Ron Daniels said drug users and substance abusers who inject themselves have surpassed people who engage in unprotected sex as a cause for the spread of HIV.

“More people realize that unprotected sex is dangerous,” Daniels said. “Sex is only going to be a problem for those who think it (contracting HIV through unprotected sex) won’t happen to them. Most individuals now are well aware that protected sex is the only way to go.”

GW organizations have attempted to deal with the dismal D.C. AIDS statistics by working with other organizations. The Neighbors’ Project has set up a partnership with Metro TeenAIDS, an organization that fights HIV and AIDS within D.C.’s youth.

“We know that the messages will get out better if they’re kids from the community going out into the community. We want to engage young people from D.C.’s poorest neighborhoods to end the struggle from this epidemic,” said Adam Tenner, Metro TeenAIDS’ executive director. “It’s not just fishing, it’s teaching people how to fish.”

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