D.C. officials launched a citywide HIV testing campaign this summer in response to reports that the District has the highest rate of new AIDS cases of any major U.S. city.
The 2005 report, published by the D.C. Appleseed Center and the law firm of Hogan and Hartson, estimates that one in 20 D.C. residents is living with HIV or AIDS. District public health officials estimate that 25 percent of these individuals do not know they are infected, leaving 9,000 known HIV/AIDS infections in D.C.
D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams vowed to offer free HIV testing services throughout the city with the goal of ensuring that all residents know their HIV status by 2007, according to a press release from OraSure Technologies.
The city’s efforts to stop the spread of AIDS are noteworthy, Blum said, but simply testing all D.C. residents does not solve the problem.
“The plan to test all residents by 2007 is great, but D.C. still doesn’t have the money or resources to actually provide adequate healthcare and counseling to the residents with HIV,” Blum said.
Alex Lawson, the health educator for D.C. Fights Back! and a GW graduate student of public policy, is working to educate the D.C. public on the AIDS crisis.
“We have known for a long time that we had the worst HIV rate in the nation, but not everyone knows that; D.C. has not done enough to educate people on this issue,” Lawson said. “The government has an inability to talk about AIDS, mainly because it is associated with sex.”
Lawson added that the District’s first priority should be to better publicize methods of protection from HIV.
Adam Tenner, executive director of Metro Teen Aids – an organization founded to help young people fight AIDS – said that the primary mode of transferring HIV for young people is through sex.
“We are working together as a city to reduce the stigma associated with HIV. People with HIV are very afraid to admit having the disease and do not seek adequate care,” Tenner said. “It is important that young people, regardless of their incomes or social situation, have the ability to get tested for HIV.”
Tenner explained that in addition to educating young people about AIDS, poverty in the city plays a role in spreading the disease.
“The city needs to embrace and support its young people. The 50 percent drop-out rate in high schools, joblessness and other factors help spread HIV in D.C.”