DC Launches First-In-The-Nation Trans Respect Ad Campaign

"People will see transgender people. They're going through everyday life, everyday struggles - the same as straight people, rich people, everyone," Kisha, who appears in one of the ads said.

By Chris Geidner for BuzzFeed

The District of Columbia government Thursday will launch a campaign that advocates say is a first of its kind: A series of ads "promoting respect for the District's transgender and gender-non-conforming communities."

One of the ads features Kisha, a trans woman who lives in D.C. The ad quotes Kisha, saying, "I love wandering through Smithsonian museums, eating on H Street with my friends, and going to shows at Howard Theater."

Then, the aim of the campaign: "I'm a transgender woman and I'm part of D.C. Please treat me the way any woman would want to be treated - with courtesy and respect."

The posters - which the D.C. Office of Human Rights has been sparking interest about on Facebook - then note that discrimination based on gender identity and expression is illegal in the District of Columbia and provide a website and phone number for more information.

Part of the D.C. government's response to a spate of anti-trans violence in the city in the recent years, Mayor Vincent Gray is planning to attend tonight's launch of the campaign, a city official told BuzzFeed.



 

 

'We Can End AIDS' In DC With Sound Policies!

The We Can End AIDS Mobilization will have District residents, activists, and advocates marching with thousands from around the world July 24 during the International AIDS Conference in downtown D.C.

Washington D.C. - More than 30,000 AIDS activists representing the District and communities across the country and around the world are expected to join together to demand an end to the HIV & AIDS. We Can End AIDS, a mobilization action, will take place on Tuesday July 24 at 12 noon starting at five different locations in downtown D.C. and all will meet in a converging action at Lafayette Park, at the White House.

All five marches will have a distinct focus:

Promote Sound Policies - Public Policy Based on Science and Human Needs; Lift the Federal Ban on and Fully Fund Syringe Exchange Programs.

End The War On Women - Reproductive Justice and End Gender-Based Violence.

Respect Our Human Rights And Promote Harm Reduction - End the War on Drugs and Drug Users; Confront HIV Criminalization, Stigma, Mass Imprisonment and LGBTQ Violence and Discrimination.

Tax Wall Street - Use a Robin Hood Tax to Fund AIDS Treatment, Prevention and Health Care, Provide Jobs, and Fight Climate Change at Home and Around the World.

Fight Pharma's Corporate Greed - People over Profits, Health Care and Treatment Access for All.

The We Can End AIDS Mobilization was created to draw attention to the fact that despite new, scientifically proven interventions and treatment, the lack of funding, political will and ideology have provided barriers to both preventing and treating a preventable and treatable epidemic.

This urgency is illustrated vividly in D.C., where in 2009 the Center for Disease Control (CDC) identified the Nation's Capitol as an area with a "generalized and severe epidemic" with over 3% of the city's population living with HIV & AIDS. "Currently, with growing disparities in education, economics, jobs, and housing stability," says Larry Bryant, co-chair of DC Fights Back and lead organizer of the 'Sound Policies' branch, "conditions are only getting worse among those most vulnerable to HIV infection, homelessness, and violence."

To have you or your organization join the 'Promote Sound Policies' branch of the We Can End AIDS mobilization, contact Larry Bryant at 202.408.0305 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

To join another branch of the We Can End AIDS mobilization or to get more information on the complete platform, contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or go to www.wecanendaids.org.



Norton Letter to Emerson and Serrano Requests Maintaining D.C. Local Needle Exchange and HIV/AIDS Funding

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), joined by 31 of her House colleagues, sent a letter this week to House Committee on Appropriations Subcommittee on Financial Services and General Government Chairwoman Jo Ann Emerson (R-MO) and Ranking Member José Serrano (D-NY) to urge the committee to maintain the current D.C. needle exchange language in fiscal year 2013 and to request funds for the Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP).

Norton and her colleagues asked the committee to maintain the fiscal year 2012 appropriations language regarding the District’s needle exchange programs, which allows D.C. to use its local funds for needle-exchange programs unless local public health or local law enforcement authorities deem a site to be “inappropriate.” Preventing the D.C. needle-exchange rider, which would ban D.C. from using its local funds for needle exchange, from being re-imposed in fiscal year 2013 continues to be at the top of the Congresswoman’s agenda because D.C.’s program has been remarkably successful since Norton got the rider removed in 2008, showing a 60 percent drop in the number of HIV/AIDS cases in D.C. attributable to injection drug use in the first two years. Before Norton got the D.C. needle-exchange rider removed in 2008, the HIV/AIDS rate in D.C. had jumped to first in the nation, and thousands of residents died or were infected because of the rider.

Norton and her colleagues also requested $1.4 million for ONAP to ensure the implementation of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS), which is designed to reduce the number of people who become infected with HIV, increase access to care, optimize health outcomes for people living with HIV, and reduce HIV-related health disparities.

Thirty years after the first reports of HIV, the epidemic continues needlessly to grow in the United States. The most needless loss of life and increase in infection occurred in the District of Columbia because Congress usurped the local government’s right to spend its local funds to benefit its own local citizens. Only by getting the rider removed in 2008 have we begun to take on a disproportionate cause of the epidemic in this city,” Norton said. “Life-saving anti-retroviral drugs are enabling more people to live longer, healthier lives, but an increasing number also require access to care, medication, and support services. This means doing several things at the same time – preventing this preventable virus with safe sex, testing, and treatment and care for those who need it.”

When the fiscal year 2012 omnibus spending bill passed in December 2011, Emerson and Serrano met their public commitment to add HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment funding for the District in the final bill, even though it was in neither the House nor Senate spending bill.

Published: March 22, 2012

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Sex Workers Deserve Dignity And Care

Written by Aviva Dove-Viebahn

There’s no doubt that sex work in its various manifestations, ranging from stripping to prostitution to pornography, remains a contentious issue. It’s one on which even feminists notoriously disagree–a “fracture in ideology,” according to Kate Holden–with discussions veering back and forth between victimization and empowerment.

Of course there’s a substantial difference between becoming a sex worker by choice and, say, being sex trafficked by force, and I doubt anyone would argue that forced prostitution is empowering. However, “sex slavery,” as popularized in films and on shows such as Law and Order: Special Victims Unit, represents a more extreme scenario, with many sex workers–at least in the U.S.–falling somewhere on a spectrum between choice and circumstance. One thing isn’t really up for debate, though: A sex worker, woman or man, cis- or transgender, shouldn’t be deprived of rights, protection or access to health care due to the social stigma that weighs on their profession. Today’s post features projects and organizations recognizing that no one should be left behind in our continual battle for equality.

Washington, D.C.-based HIPS (Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive) works on a “harm reduction model … to address the impact that HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, discrimination, poverty, violence and drug use have on the lives of individuals engaging in sex work.” HIPS’ initiatives include both emotional and practical support structures: peer education, support groups for transgender and women workers and a mobile outreach program that offers STI testing, syringe exchange and access to contraception.

The Sex Worker’s Project, run out of the Urban Justice Center in New York City, also works with individual sex workers, but its main focus is on advocacy to protect sex workers from violence and undue prosecution. For example, a recent campaign involved a recommendation from the UN that the U.S. acknowledge the “special vulnerability of sexual workers to violence and human rights abuses,” which the U.S. government officially endorsed in March 2011.

And then there’s the collaborative blog Tits and Sass, which offers a socially conscious, open-minded space for sex workers to write about their experiences and bust public misconceptions of their profession. Founded in 2011 after the demise of the sex work magazine $pread, the blog’s aim was to fill a “void when it came to witty commentary on the public image of our industry.” Contributors make the point that common stereotypes of sex workers can “have an impact on the realities of [their] lives as sex workers every bit as strong as the law.”

Even if our opinions on the sex work industry diverge, we can all agree that being a sex worker–whether by choice, circumstance or force–should not disqualify someone from basic human dignity, care and respect.

This post was originally published by Ms. Magazine.

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MEDIA ADVISORY: PRESS CONFERENCE

Activists Living with HIV Unfairly Prosecuted, Threatened With 6 Months in Jail for Protesting AIDS Funding Cuts, Syringe Exchange Ban

In Contrast, D.C. Mayor Gets Slap on Wrist for Separate Protest on Same Day
###
Legal experts, medical providers, and AIDS activists will hold a press conference Wednesday on the case of several HIV+ people and activists who were arrested in April at a demonstration against Republican cuts to AIDS funding and ban on syringe exchange funding in the District of Columbia.   The activists were arrested the same day as Mayor Gray and Council Chairman Brown—who were protesting the same Republican budget “riders” that hurt District residents and sovereignty.
But unlike the Mayor and Chairman, who were released on a $50 fine, these activists are being prosecuted by the U.S. Attorney’s office, threatened with 6 months in jail, and a criminal record. The press conference will document failures of the Obama Administration's US attorney’s office to follow through on promises in the case and the failure of the US Attorney’s current policy of drug-testing people engaged in no-violent acts of civil disobedience.
WHEN: Wednesday February 8  /  NOON
WHERE: Steps of the Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
WHO: Daniel Brito, Government Relations, Drug Policy Alliance
TBD, National Lawyers Guild
Christine Campbell, DC Fights Back & DC Community Coalition (people living with HIV groups in DC)
Charles King, President, Housing Works (the nations largest minority-controlled HIV service organization)
Antonio Davis, AIDS activist being prosecuted, ACT UP Philadelphia
Matthew Kavanagh, AIDS activist being prosecuted, DC Fights Back & Health GAP
###

 

HIV & AIDS: A Major Problem the DC Region Must Overcome

Posted at www.regionforward.org

City rankings are abundant, measuring everything from how generous cities are in terms of charitable giving, how many dog parks and skate parks there have per capita, and how artistic cities are based on concentration of artists.

The Washington region often finds itself at the top of city rankings, for better or for worse. Just today, Richard Florida blogged at Atlantic Cities about how the DC area ranks the highest in the nation in terms of “economic advantage,” an index which includes “three measures of regional productivity and wealth: median household income, per capita income and average wages and salaries.”

On the other hand, we also often find ourselves sitting at or near the top of “most congested” rankings, with this year’s edition of the annual Texas Transportation Institute showing the DC region tied with Chicago as having the worst traffic congestion in the country.

Another area where metro Washington really needs to see some dramatic improvement is in relation to its rates of HIV/AIDS. Despite being the seventh largest region in terms of population, metro Washington has the third highest number of cumulative AIDS cases in the country. And it’s not just a problem in DC proper, 47% of the region’s AIDS cases are located outside the District of Columbia.

HIV/AIDS is, therefore, a regional epidemic. And lingering stigmas and misinformation are continuing to fuel the epidemic. Although the number of newly diagnosed AIDS cases in the region declined from 1,320 in 2006 to 842 in 2009, that’s still far too many. That’s why the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) and several other sponsors recently held a Regional HIV/AIDS Forum to devise a regional strategy to combat HIV/AIDS in metro Washington.

Jeffrey Crowley, Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy, was one of the speakers at the Forum and he emphasized President Obama’s commitment to fighting the virus, noting that even as other areas have experienced funding cuts, HIV/AIDS research and treatment has received increased funding during his administration. Crowley also noted that his office was in the process of creating the first National HIV/AIDS Strategy with the primary goals of reducing infections and increasing access to care and treatment for people with HIV/AIDS.

An expert panel including health officials from Montgomery, Prince George’s, and Fairfax Counties, and the District of Columbia discussed issues related to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in metro Washington. All of the speakers noted that stigma associated with the virus, by impeding treatment, remains a major barrier to reducing new HIV infections. They all also emphasized the fact that the virus knows no boundaries, reinforcing the regional nature of the epidemic.

There are, however, imbalances in how and the speed with which treatment occurs throughout the region. Dr. Mohammad N. Akhter, Director of the DC Department of Health indicated that Mayor Vincent Gray is working to bring President Obama into a Regional HIV/AIDS Strategy, modeled partly on the national strategy, which would start by performing a treatment and needs assessment as a region.

The forum, which was attended by 100+ experts, officials, and community members, was a first step towards building a regional strategy to combat the HIV/AIDS problem in metro Washington.

For more information about the regional HIV/AIDS strategy contact Carla Sanchez, a health planner at COG.

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DC AIDS Activists Set To Protest For Housing On December 1, World AIDS Day

EVENT DATE: Thursday December 1 2011

CONTACT: Candace Montague - 240.274.4435 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ; Larry Bryant - 202.408.0305 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

WHAT: Rally on World AIDS Day to house the 922 people on the AIDS housing wait list and to demand that housing is made a priority in the development and implementation of a city wide comprehensive HIV & AIDS strategy to end the epidemic in the District.

WHEN: World AIDS Day - Thursday December 1 at 12 noon

WHERE: Washington DC Field Office Housing & Urban Development; 820 First Street NE (Courtyard)

WHO: DC residents living with HIV & AIDS and their allies and supporters from DC Fights Back, Metro Washington Public Health Association (MWPHA), Housing Works, Campaign To End AIDS activists, National AIDS Housing Coalition, advocates, friends and loved ones.

WHY: Washington DC's HIV rates are occurring at epidemic proportions. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), 3 - 5% of DC residents are living with HIV. And although increased testing campaigns are finding more people living with HIV in the District, city and federal officials have been reluctant to utilize proven effective structural interventions like safe and stable housing for those most marginalized and affected by the HIV & AIDS epidemic.

Research has shown:

Housing is HIV prevention - People who have stable housing are less likely to acquire HIV infection or to transmit HIV to others -- regardless of other risks. HIV prevention strategies will not succeed without attention to housing and other important factors.

Housing is health care - For people living with HIV, housing is one of the strongest predictors of their access to treatment, their health outcomes, and how long they will live. To obtain and benefi?t from life-saving HIV treatments, people living with HIV must have safe, stable housing.

Housing for people living with HIV & AIDS saves lives and money - HIV housing interventions prevent costly new HIV infections, improve HIV health outcomes, reduce mortality, and decrease the use of expensive emergency and hospital services. Action to meet HIV housing needs costs far less than inaction, and is a wise use of limited public resources.

 

Homelessness is both a cause and effect of HIV infection - People coping with homelessness are at greater risk of becoming infected with HIV. Also, people living with HIV & AIDS experience high rates of housing loss and instability.

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Catania To Host Public Hearing on HIV & AIDS Education

 

Date:

December 1, 2:00 PM

Address:

Council Chamber, Room 500, John A. Wilson Building
1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20004

 

Councilmember David A. Catania, Chair of the Committee on Health, announces a Public Hearing on the following legislation: B19-510 and B19-524. The hearing will be Thursday, December 1, 2011 at 2:00pm in room 500 of the John Wilson Building, 1350 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW.

The purpose of B19-510 is to incorporate HIV/AIDS education into ongoing continuing education requirements for physicians, physicians’ assistants, and nurses. The purpose of B19-524 is to establish a peer-to-peer HIV/AIDS educational outreach program for seniors within the Department of Health.

Those wishing to provide testimony should register online or contact Jonathan Antista of the Committee on Health via email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or phone at (202) 724-8170 and shall provide their names, contact information, and organization affiliation, if any, by noon on Tuesday, November 29, 2011.  Individual may also sign up to testify at www.dccouncil.us.  Oral testimony may be limited to 3 minutes per witness and 5 minutes per panel of witnesses.  Those providing oral testimony shall bring 15 copies of their statements to the hearing.  Those submitting written testimony may submit it to the Committee on Health no later than 5:30pm on Thursday, December 8, 2011.

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National AIDS Policy Director Steps Down

By Phil Reese for the Washington Blade

Jeff Crowley, Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy at the White House, announced today that he will leave his position at the end of the year.

“After developing and releasing the ‘National HIV/AIDS Strategy for the United States’ and spending a year and a half on implementation, now is an appropriate time for me to move on to the next phase of my life,” Crowley wrote in an open letter to colleagues on Thursday.

“I cannot fully express how honored I feel to have been given the task of leading the process to develop our country’s first comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy,” Crowley’s letter continued. “I am grateful to the HIV community and our many, many partners inside and outside of government that helped us develop a roadmap for moving forward at this critical juncture in our Nation’s response to the domestic HIV epidemic.”

Crowley — who played double duty in the administration as the Senior Advisor on Disability — also discussed his work in that arena in his announcement.

“I am also grateful to the many members of the disability community with whom I have worked on issues related to health and long-term services and supports, civil rights, housing, and other issues.”

Crowley’s departure comes just weeks after his boss, the top domestic policy advisor in the White House, Melody Barnes, announced her own resignation. Both separation will leave the administration with two major leadership openings on the domestic policy front next year.

“Jeff has been integral to establishing the country’s first comprehensive national HIV/AIDS strategy,” said Brian Hudjich Executive Director of Washington D.C. based AIDS services research organization, HealthHIV. “He was accessible, approachable and clearly committed to receiving input from the community in helping address the needs of everyone impacted by HIV.”

The White House praised Crowley’s achievements in the administration in shaping national AIDS policy.

Crowley once served as Deputy Executive Director for Programs at the National Association of People with AIDS, and may now follow several other prominent HIV/AIDS officials who have gone back into the world of think tanks and not-for-profit organizations. In June of 2010, Shannon Hader, a former official with President Bush’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief resigned her position as top HIV/AIDS official for the District of Columbia to take a position with health care think tank The Futures Group. Crowley could also pursue work in policy for people with disabilities after he leaves his position at the end of the year.

Crowley’s letter states the White House has already begun the process of finding his replacement, and will keep the implementation of the national strategy a priority in the coming months.

Crowley’s resignation will leave room for new health care experts to take a role in influencing domestic policy on AIDS/HIV. AmfAR Vice President and Director of Public Policy Chris Collins could be one candidate. Many consider Collins’ 2007 paper ‘Improving Outcomes: Blueprint for a National AIDS Plan for the United States,’ the foundation on which the National HIV/AIDS Strategy was built.

Also likely to be considered would be Crowley’s deputy director, Greg Millet, who has worked closely with the roll out of the National HIV/AIDS Strategy since its earliest days.

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Youth Organizations Struggle to Make Teenagers Aware of the Risks of HIV

Nia Sutton, 16, knows more about HIV than most people her age. In fact, she's perfectly comfortable personifying the virus in a bit of spoken word.

"On the street they call me the silent killer," she spoke with furious passion to a recent crowd in Washington, D.C. "I guess it's because you can never know if I've given you my lovin' or not. But they say like one in every 20 people know me. This is why I'm hot."

As a teen spokeswoman for the local HIV youth advocacy organization Metro Teen AIDS, Sutton had captivated the crowd at a safer sex party the organization was hosting to educate teens about healthy sex practices.

She paused for a second, glancing at the paper she holds with her lyrics scribbled on them.

"I love short, black, fat, frail, pink, penis, tall, white, skinny, strong, yellow, vagina, orange - I love 'em all," she spits out before a round of applause in a Metro Teen Aids online video.

Sutton and her fellow advocates are members of Generation Y. They are the technologically savvy Millenials, a population of young adults constantly plugged-in, engaged and informed on all issues - except, according to public health officials, the prevalence and dangers of HIV.

In this respect, Sutton is an exception. She's working to make sure others her age are, too.

This past June marked the 30th anniversary of the first diagnosis of HIV, a disease experts said is continuously evolving and reaching new demographics. What once began as the gay white man's disease has now reached global epidemic proportions and public health experts are zeroing in prevention efforts on one key group - the Millenials - to ensure the next 30 years are a far cry from the last.

A NEW GENERATION

Increasing awareness on the importance of HIV testing isn't a new public health battle, but experts said the current generation of young people presents an unprecedented challenge. Because this group of 16 to 24-year-olds has always lived in a world with HIV, the sense of urgency to eradicate the disease that dominated its early stages has largely been lost.

According to a national public health opinion survey conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in June, two-thirds of Americans named HIV/AIDS the most urgent health problem facing the United States in 1987. But over the years, that number has declined steadily and now stands at just 7 percent. Additionally, the study noted that the number of people who reported seeing, hearing or reading about the epidemic in the last year has decreased from seven in 10 people in 2004 to four in 10 individuals in 2011. You can see the study at http://www.kff.org/kaiserpolls/upload/8186.pdf

"What's really critical at 30 years into the epidemic, especially when talking about a younger population who didn't know a time without HIV, is that people may be more complacent," said Tina Hoff, the Kaiser Family Foundation's director of health communication. "We need to help them to understand that this is a disease that continues to exist. Rates are not decreasing and, in some groups, they're going up."

According to the Center for Disease Control, one in two sexually active young people will contract a sexually transmitted infections by the time they are 25 - although teenagers account for only a quarter of the sexually active population, they account for nearly half of all new STIs. Among cases of HIV, young people ages 13 to 25 account for 31 percent of all new infections and most reported contracting it through sexual contact, according to a January report on sexual health of young Americans by the Kaiser Family Foundation. You can see it at http://www.kff.org/womenshealth/upload/3040-05.pdf

Despite such high incidence rates, getting young people tested for all STIs remains a constant public health battle. Meghan Davies, deputy director of community health at Whitman Walker Health - a clinic located in D.C - said although many young people get tested in her office, most of them end up testing positive.

Although Davies attributes the high incidence rate among young people to several factors - including stigma surrounding the disease and access to testing sites - she said a sense of complacency exists as a major deterrent to getting them tested.

"Anyone older can say, 'I know someone who died of HIV,' or 'I know an entire family who died from HIV,'" Davies said. "This generation doesn't have that. It's also lucky enough to have available medicines. You have to explain to them that while having HIV isn't a death sentence anymore, that doesn't mean you can take a pill and it will go away."

"THE NUMBER ONE BARRIER IS STIGMA"

Although strides have been made to humanize the disease, HIV/AIDS remains a taboo subject in most communities 30 years after its controversial beginning. And for young people, fear and shame surrounding just getting a test - let alone actually having the disease - is a constant roadblock to knowing their HIV status.

"The number one barrier is stigma," said Raul Posas, social marketing manager at Metro Teen AIDS in Washington, D.C. "They don't want to be judged. God forbid, if they do become HIV-positive, they'd rather just not know."

Posas, who handles all outreach efforts for Metro Teen AIDS and works directly with young people on testing efforts, said the perception of stigma surrounding the disease isn't false - it's alive and well in the communities he serves.

Posas said he had one 18-year-old female client who disclosed her status to her family, only to be shunned when she needed support the most.

"She got her medical care and she was doing well," he said. "But then her family members began treating her like she was contagious. They had a separate plate for her at the table. She just couldn't do it anymore. She stopped taking her medicines and she died last year. "

According to Craig Roberts, an epidemiologist at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and former chair of the American College Health Association's sexual health education coalition, this stigma holds true in most other STIs.

"Part of it is culture and how our culture approaches sexuality," he said. "STIs are still considered things to be ashamed of. We're attempting to normalize the concept of getting tested. Just like getting an annual mammogram, getting tested for chlamydia shouldn't be a big deal."

REACHING THEM ON THEIR LEVEL

Educating a new generation on the dangers of HIV means reaching out to them on levels they are familiar with, several experts said. Now, aggressive media campaigns are becoming the norm for public health officials grappling with educating the Millenials.

Nationally, the Kaiser Family Foundation teamed up with in 2008 MTV to launch the Get Yourself Tested campaign, a robust media initiative to familiarize teens with getting tested and encourage dialogue among young people. Hoff said these types of efforts have proven to be successful with the current youth generation.

"You need a multi-prong strategy," she said. "Media alone and public information alone isn't going to solve this crisis by itself, but it's an important piece of the puzzle. ... Most young people will tell you their most common source of information on these issues are the media and their friends."

But in D.C., with an HIV incidence rate of 3 percent - making it the nation's HIV epicenter, rivaling countries in Western Africa - media campaigns aren't enough. It's about hitting the streets and reaching teens directly, Posas said.

Metro Teen AIDS recently launched its Real Talk campaign, which features advertisements of real-life teen HIV advocates - such as Sutton - who speak directly about getting tested and fighting the stigma surrounding it. In addition to speaking tours and bus advertisements, Real Talk utilizes a texting component where young people can text for the nearest HIV testing center or upcoming events in the district.

Since Real Talk first began in 2008, Posas said about 3,000 youth have tested at a campaign event and 90 percent reported the initiative as a motivating factor to getting tested.

Even with such aggressive campaigns to increase accessibility, Posas said one critical factor about this generation has to be recognized - young people prize discretion more than anything when it comes to getting an HIV test.

To ensure privacy and accessibility meet, Posas said Metro Teen AIDS has set up drop-in testing centers, where teens can hang out and casually get an STI or pregnancy test.

"They can hang out, play video games and interact with other young people there," Posas said. "We try to send them to places that are a little more discreet and don't always look like a clinic."

Metro Teen AIDS and the Whitman Walker Clinic have also been reaching out to young people directly in D.C. through mobile testing units. While Metro Teen AIDS regularly hosts basketball competitions and back-to-school fashion shows with free testing, Whitman Walker has made its mark on the local club scene.

By placing units directly outside popular nightclubs - that cater to both homosexuals and heterosexuals - Davies said the concept of getting testing is becoming more normal.

"We're trying to make testing more fun," she said. "We also have fun condoms available, whether they're studded or extra lubricated. ... We're trying to make (campaigns) a bit sexier, a little bit naughtier, so the kids get that we get where they're coming from."

And just as it took the first 30 years of HIV to see what efforts did and didn't prove successful, many experts said it would take time to see how such campaigns affect the current generation. For Davies, while more and more hope comes with each young person that walks though her clinic's doors, the work ahead can be summed up simply.

"Not everyone is getting tested," she said. "We're obviously failing somewhere."

McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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Fighting HIV In D.C., One Day At A Time

By Ian Shapira for the Washington Post

“I’m struggling to see if I can go. If I don’t, I won’t get medicine,” said the woman, an unemployed mother of four who knew the risks of going without. “I want a vacation.”

Heard, a community health worker who also has HIV, gave her an exasperated look, then stretched out her arms and palms.

“Put your hands on the table. I want to touch your hands now,” Heard said. She clasped the woman’s hands tightly. “This may be new for you. I remember when it was new for me.”

At the Women’s Collective, a one-floor clinic in a Northeast Washington strip mall with a liquor store and pawnshop, a single day spent with Heard can illuminate the battles of HIV/AIDS patients in granular, raw detail.

Each step of her day, Heard, 55, juggles the complexities of her own diagnosis, complicated now by a nettlesome change in her Medicaid status. But she soldiers on, dispensing cheerful, tough therapy to her clients with HIV and walk-ins who need to be tested.

Here, people stricken with HIV or AIDS talk to case managers for help navigating hospitals, medical appointments, obtaining the right medicines or gathering the strength to talk honestly with doctors about their symptoms. With 18 employees, the organization operates on a $1.6 million budget and gets about $300,000 from the city, half as much as the city’s allocation a few years ago, according to its founder, Patricia Nalls.

The Women’s Collective largely looks like any other office. But there are signs of its sensitive nature — a room with free children’s clothes, another with free food. Way in the back, there is a makeshift altar with candles and funeral programs adorned with the faces of former clients who have died of the disease.

Heard, dressed in purple jean leggings and an orange dashiki, began her day at 9 a.m., reviewing four patients’ CD4 blood counts, which represent the number of cells attacked by the AIDS virus in a microliter of blood. One was just below 200, the point at which the disease is considered advanced. Another was 85. Another was 535. The fourth’s count was missing from the file.

* * *

Heard said she rarely regrets her life choices, even though she admits they were reckless.

A Chicago native, Heard moved here in the late 1970s to attend Howard University. Her mom worked in a lamp factory, her dad worked at a paint plant, but Heard wanted to be a theater costumer designer.

She got sidetracked. She ended up having two children with two separate men; by 1984, she had dropped out to care for her children.

Heard fell into the District’s crack scene and became a regular at the city’s open-air Hanover Street drug market, buying $50 bags of powder and weed laced with a hallucinogen.

She enjoyed men, she said. By the late 1980s, she had a third child with a third man.

Living mostly off city subsidies for low-income parents, Heard worked odd jobs at day-care centers or as a seamstress. One of her boyfriends was abusive, she said.

The drugs dulled her to the accumulating stress in her life. “I didn’t want to deal with the disappointment of not being able to return to school. I smoked drugs as a means of not feeling exactly what was going on at the time. I would do it away from children. They were in the other room.”

In 1990, Heard had twins with another man, the fourth father of her five children. When she gave birth at Howard University Hospital, she remembered some doctors and nurses wearing three gloves each. A sign on the door of her hospital room warning visitors about “hazardous body fluids.”

In 1990, Heard had twins with another man, the fourth father of her five children. When she gave birth at Howard University Hospital, she remembered some doctors and nurses wearing three gloves each. A sign on the door of her hospital room warning visitors about “hazardous body fluids.”

“That’s when I was given an HIV diagnosis,” she said. “I was pretty numb. I don’t remember crying.”

She is not certain which man gave her HIV; she suspects it was her third child’s father, whose death certificate said he died of AIDS, she said. (Her children do not have HIV.)

“But I am not one to point fingers, because of my lifestyle then,” she said. “I didn’t practice safe sex. And I didn’t discuss it with him.”

Over the next decade, Heard “fantasized” that her “bug” was something else. She never got a prognosis, or any death sentence.

In 2000, she enrolled herself in a local drug treatment center, and her children were moved into city foster care. But once Heard completed her detoxification, she got them back. Soon, she was referred to the Women’s Collective, where she began volunteering and working part time.

In 2004, she grew extremely sick. She had never taken any HIV medication, and her body was deteriorating. Her feet tingled. She developed mouth infections. She suffered bouts of AIDS-related pneumonia. Her T-cells had plummeted so much that she was formally diagnosed with AIDS. Once, she got so sick that she was laid up for days in bed. Her daughter, Zataunia, remembers her asking: “What would you do if I died?”

She finally began taking medication to stave off the disease. Bactrim at first, then Zerit, Reyataz and Atripla. Added to the mix: a monthly supply of whole-leaf aloe vera liquid for drinking.

Slowly, the crisis passed and her health improved.

* * *

Shortly after lunch, Heard introduced herself to Darnell Burley, a 24-year-old man wearing loose jeans and a Hugo Boss jacket, who said he had just been released from prison after serving time for destroying property. He wanted an HIV test.

Heard ushered him to a back room, where she had him sign some papers, pricked his pinky finger and waited 20 minutes to see if had HIV.

While the digital clocked ticked on, she interrogated him. “Tell me, what brought you in?”

“Just walked past,” he said.

“What was your highest level of education?”

“Twelfth,” he said.

“Your last HIV test?”

“February,” he said.

“Why did you come in?” she asked.

“You have to know your status; anything less is uncivilized.”

The clocked reached 20:00. The test results were negative. Thrilled, Burley pulled out his cellphone and called the mother of his 8-year-old to celebrate.

Late afternoon came.

Heard was with the 37-year-old who wasn’t sure she could keep her doctor’s appointment, tightly clasping her hands, hoping to connect with her physically and emotionally.

Heard smiled to calm the woman and asked, “Where are you right now?”

“I know I got to take it,” the woman said. “I don’t want to be faking it, getting a prescription and letting it sit there.”

Heard offered to travel with her to the doctor’s office. She looked down and realized their hands were still joined.

“I am holding your hands so you can feel what I am saying,” she told the woman.

“I don’t know no one in here like you,” the woman said back.

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City Sues HIV & AIDS Nonprofit Which Allegedly Used Grant To Build Strip Club

By Aaron Morrissey for the DCist.

A few weeks ago, an audit of the District's Department of Health showed that the city had not applied proper oversight on a $10 million grant program designed to benefit HIV/AIDS residential services. Turns out that at least some of that money was allegedly spent on building a strip club.

Earlier today, the District's attorney general, Irv Nathan, announced that the city was filing suit against Miracle Hands, an organization which stands accused of taking $329,653 of that $10 million in grants and spending it on construction of a nightclub. (The investigation was prompted at the request of At-Large Councilmember David Catania.) The organization, the A.G. says, billed the city for renovations made at two warehouses which were to be used to house HIV/AIDS patients; one of those warehouses has the same address as Stadium Club.

Of course, the actual renovations on a facility to accomodate the patients was never actually completed, according to the lawsuit. Oh, and the city's former HIV/AIDS Housing Administrator, Debra Rowe -- who was in charge of making decisions on who would receive the funding before she was fired in 2008 -- is currently the executive director of Miracle Hands.

In a statement, Nathan stated that the Office of the Attorney General "will continue to be relentless in our efforts to recover government funds from those who have unjustly enriched themselves at the expense of the District of Columbia." The lawsuit seeks $1 million in damages.

Go to the DCist to see full article and the Miracle Hands complaint.

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Audit Slams D.C.'s HIV & AIDS Grant Program

By Freeman Klopott for The Washington Examiner.

An audit of the District's $10 million grant program for HIV/AIDS residential services has verified serious flaws in the city's oversight of the dollars it doled out.

The Department of Health's HIV/AIDS administration's poor monitoring allowed at least one grant recipient to receive reimbursements for an employee who didn't exist, among other issues.

Many of the woes that have plagued the office occurred under former director Debra Rowe. The FBI has previously said it was investigating accusations of health care fraud that allegedly happened during Rowe's watch, although the U.S. Attorney's office declined to say on Tuesday whether the investigation remained open. Rowe now works for a company - run by a former drug kingpin - that she funded as a city employee.

The audit by the D.C. inspector general "is sadly just another documentation of the legacy of Debra Rowe," D.C. Councilman David Catania said in a statement to The Washington Examiner on Tuesday.

Oversight of the grant program has greatly improved, which has helped dry-up HIV/AIDS funding for groups like Miracle Hands, Catania said. Miracle Hands was created by Cornell Jones, who spent nine years in prison for running an open-air drug market in Northeast during the 1980s. Rowe is currently Miracle Hands' executive director, the company's website says.

Rowe did not return calls for comment.

Soon after she was fired in April 2008, studies found that the HIV/AIDS infection rate had reached epidemic levels in D.C., with 3 percent of the city's population infected.

The inspector general's audit, though, focused its attention on Hill's Community Residential Support Services. Hill's was supposed to provide homes for people infected with HIV/AIDS so they could stay off the street and decrease the risk of infecting others. It picked up more than $1 million under Rowe's watch, which started in 2004. It was cut off in 2009 and has since shutdown.

But the audit found the Hill's funding should have been denied earlier because it didn't meet the terms of the grant. It added that the AIDS/HIV administration "was aware of [Hill's] deficiencies in complying with the terms... but continued to reimburse [Hill's]."

According to the audit, Hill's never paid employees' federal and state taxes, and in at least one case had the city reimburse it nearly $4,000 for an employee who didn't exist. City officials, meanwhile, failed to keep track of Hill's payroll and expenditures, writing about $165,000 in reimbursement checks for expenses that had no receipts, the audit said. The D.C. grant monitor even signed off on paying back Hill's for veterinarian costs for a cat after Hill's said the animal was needed to keep vermin away.

"[Hill's] should have hired an exterminator," the audit said.

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HIV Prevention in Women Requires a Full Toolbox

By Emily Paulsen for Medscape Today News

July 29, 2011 (Washington, DC) — Women account for more than 50% of the worldwide AIDS epidemic, and a disproportionate number of those women are people of color. In the United States, black women make up a growing share of new AIDS cases; the rate for black women is nearly 20 times the rate for white women.

Although these statistics are dire, new research, presented here at the National Medical Association 2011 Annual Convention and Scientific Assembly, offers hope that the tide will turn on HIV transmission.

"This has been an amazing year for HIV research," Gail Brown, MD, told meeting attendees. Dr. Brown coordinates research on microbicides at the Office of AIDS Research, part of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. She offered a "walk-through of some of the interesting things we've learned about what puts women at risk for HIV, and some of the interventions available."

The biggest news in HIV prevention, reported recently at the 6th International AIDS Society (IAS) Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention, has been the use of antiretroviral therapy (ART) to reduce the risk for transmission, according to Dr. Brown. The HPTN 052 study showed a 96% reduction in transmission in serodiscordant couples in which the HIV-positive partner received early ART. In another study, once-daily tenofovir/emtricitabine (Truvada, Gilead Sciences) resulted in a 44% reduction in HIV transmission in men and transgender women who have sex with men. In that study, those who adhered to their medications at least 90% of the time achieved a 73% reduction in HIV transmission.

Dr. Brown pointed out that the couples in many of these studies were in steady relationships and volunteered to participate in the study. "Does this sound like the patients you see in your practice?" she asked the audience. She also said that costs and adverse effects might affect the practicality of this solution for many patients.

"When can we give up condoms?," she asked, answering that it would not likely be any time soon.

Dr. Brown said a full HIV prevention toolbox is still needed to reduce the risk for transmission. Education, partner reduction, treatment for sexually transmitted infections, condoms, circumcision, 1% tenofovir gel, and ART all offer varying amounts of protection. All interventions offer only harm reduction at this point, she said, not full protection.

In other areas of HIV research, the role of mucosa in the transmission of HIV has been illuminated, Dr. Brown reported. The natural pH of the vagina offers some protection against HIV transmission, but several factors can compromise or enhance that protection. Sexually transmitted infections, which disrupt that mucosa, increase the risk for HIV transmission. Douching or even washing with soap and water can change the pH level and increase the risk for HIV infection, she said. In contrast, animal studies have shown that the presence of natural lactobacilli might be protective. Semen has some qualities that protect, but they might also alter the optimal pH of the vagina.

Dr. Brown said that studies presented at the recent IAS conference showed that ovulation and pregnancy both seem to increase the risk for HIV transmission. Women who are trying to get pregnant, as well as those who are already pregnant, are at increased risk of contracting HIV from their partners.

These discoveries are particularly significant, as one NMA panelist pointed out, because women who are HIV-positive want to become pregnant as much as women who are HIV-negative. Most cannot afford in vitro fertilization to avoid the risk for transmission of HIV during intercourse.

Interestingly, HIV-negative men were also more likely to contract HIV from their HIV-positive partners during pregnancy.

Dr. Brown discussed another study from the IAS conference — one that found a link between hormonal contraception use (oral contraceptive and injectables) and an increased risk for HIV transmission. In that study, the risk for transmission in 3790 HIV-1 discordant couples in Africa was almost twice as high for both men and women when the woman was using injectable contraception. Dr. Brown said this contraception method might thin the vaginal mucosa and increase the risk for HIV transmission from men to women and from women to men.

Mucosa might also play a role in the high risk for HIV transmission through anal sex, Dr. Brown said. "All mucosa is not created equal," she noted. Rectal mucosa is much thinner and, it appears, less protective.

Some women believe anal sex is a safer choice, but it is actually much more dangerous in terms of HIV risk, Dr. Brown explained. She showed a chart of the comparative risk for different types of sex. Receptive anal sex is 100 times as risky as insertive oral sex, and 5 times as risky as receptive vaginal sex, she said.

It is important to get this message out to teenagers, who sometimes engage in anal sex to reduce the risk for pregnancy and to preserve virginity. They are also less likely to use a condom for anal sex, she said.

Dr. Brown and other panelists have disclosed no relevant financial relationships.

National Medical Association (NMA) 2011 Annual Convention and Scientific Assembly. Presented July 27, 2011.

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AIDS Healthcare Foundation Announces March On Washington 2011-2012

, DC HIV and AIDS Examiner

AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a California-based organization who operates the Blair Underwood Clinic in Northwest DC, announced at a press conference on Tuesday that they will host an AIDS March on Washington prior to the commencement of the 2012 International AIDS Conference.  The conference is set for July and planning is steadily under way. The 'Keep the Promise on HIV/AIDS' march is set to begin before the opening ceremony and will serve as a call to world leaders to provide universal access to care and treatment, lower the price of AIDS drugs, and to fully fund the Global Fund as well as support PEPFAR. Omonigho Ufomata, Director of Global Advocacy and Policy for AHF says it's time to step up our efforts.  "There's hardly any family that hasn't been affected by this disease. I think there's no more important time to fight, to scale up treatment, to find people who have this disease and get them treatment."

So far the march has drawn over 1,000 organizations worldwide who have signed on to march.  As of Tuesday, there were 72 organizations from the United States on the list. Out of the 72 US AIDS service organizations and advocate groups only two are DC-based with the exception of Blair Underwood Clinic, ADAP Advocacy Association and TII CANN. Some local groups have expressed concern about joining such marches as they could become confrontational.  Others, such as Whitman-Walker Health, are weighing their options.  "Whitman-Walker Health was very pleased to receive an invitation from AHF to be a part of the march next year, and we are actively considering their kind invitation."

AIDS Healthcare Foundation, a California-based organization who operates the Blair Underwood Clinic in Northwest DC, announced at a press conference on Tuesday that they will host an AIDS March on Washington prior to the commencement of the 2012 International AIDS Conference.  The conference is set for July and planning is steadily under way. The 'Keep the Promise on HIV/AIDS' march is set to begin before the opening ceremony and will serve as a call to world leaders to provide universal access to care and treatment, lower the price of AIDS drugs, and to fully fund the Global Fund as well as support PEPFAR. Omonigho Ufomata, Director of Global Advocacy and Policy for AHF says it's time to step up our efforts.  "There's hardly any family that hasn't been affected by this disease. I think there's no more important time to fight, to scale up treatment, to find people who have this disease and get them treatment."

So far the march has drawn over 1,000 organizations worldwide who have signed on to march.  As of Tuesday, there were 72 organizations from the United States on the list.  Out of the 72 US AIDS service organizations and advocate groups only two are DC-based with the exception of Blair Underwood Clinic, ADAP Advocacy Association and TII CANN. Some local groups have expressed concern about joining such marches as they could become confrontational.  Others, such as Whitman-Walker Health, are weighing their options.  "Whitman-Walker Health was very pleased to receive an invitation from AHF to be a part of the march next year, and we are actively considering their kind invitation."

DC Fights Back, an advocacy group, would like to see other items added to the agenda."D.C. Fights Back supports and endorses the 'AHF March', the 'Economic Justice Mobilization', and other HIV & AIDS activism/advocacy leading up to and during the 2012 International AIDS Conference as an opportunity to add national and international voices to those District residents living with and affected by the HIV & AIDS epidemic. D.C. Fights Back members and allies seek to include a call to action from our elected officials, community and Faith leaders, and all other public and private partners to push to implement a comprehensive, city-wide, HIV & AIDS strategy with a sharp focus on realistic and measurable timelines and accountability, implementing effective structural and science-proven interventions, and preserving and enhancing the quality of life and human rights of those most affected."

Signing on for the march is of no cost to any organization and only requires that participants show up on the day of the march.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation will continue to recruit organizations for the march in the months leading up to the IAC.  For more information about the march and how you can sign on, click here.

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HAHSTA rolls out HIV Prevention Plan for 2011-2012

, DC HIV and AIDS Examiner

The office of HIV/AIDS, Heptatitis,STD, and TB Administration (HAHSTA), in conjunction with the DC HIV Prevention Community Group, announced the release of the 2011-2012 HIV Prevention Plan for the city on Monday. The inclusive plan is an update from the 2006-2010 plan and includes a new Community Services Assessment.  This feature uses epidemiology, behavioral and ethnographic data to help demonstrate and meet the needs of subgroups more effectively.   The plan will be instrumental when HAHSTA applies for HIV prevention funds from the Center for Disease Control. DC is one of the cities selected to participate in the 12 Cities Project sponsored by the Department of Health and Human Services.

The Prevention Plan is divided into four sections: Community Services Assessment, HIV Prevention Interventions, Prioritization of Populations, and Recommended Interventions.  It also prioritizes subgroups placing People Living With HIV first and HIV Negative Individuals second.  Special Populations such as Transgender Individuals, Latino Heterosexuals, and Sex Workers are also included in the plan.  The Prevention Plan addresses issues such as risk behaviors, condom use, stigma and discrimination.  Finally, the plan aligns suggested interventions and subgroups together.

Congratulations to HAHSTA and the DC HIV Prevention Community Group for producing a comprehensive, research-based and culturally balanced plan that deeply examines the roadblocks that keep us from defeating HIV.

The plan will be posted on HAHSTA's website soon. To learn more about the 12 Cities Project and see what other cities included in their comprehensive prevention plan, click here.

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AIDS at 30: Things Will Likely Get Worse for the Most Vulnerable

This article by David Rosen is re-posted from CounterPunch.

June 27th was National HIV Testing Day. It commemorated the 30th anniversary of the first official recognition of HIV/AIDS by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control. Three decades ago, an unknown malady emerged on the world-historical stage. First in clinics and hospitals in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, and then spreading throughout the country, previously healthy gay men were reporting peculiar symptoms that, ultimately and inevitably, led to painful deaths.

Today, HIV/AIDS is a worldwide pandemic. The UNAIDS Global Report 2010 estimates that at the end of 2009 approximately 31 million adults and 2.5 million children were living with the disease. While there is no known cure for the disease, the U.S. and other advanced countries offer a “cocktail” of powerful drugs (known as protease inhibitors) that fights the infection. These drugs help reduce the HIV virus and keep the immune system as healthy as possible, decreasing the complications that may develop.

In the U.S., an estimated 1.1 million people live with the disease. The principle modes of transmission involve: unprotected male-to-male anal sexual intercourse; injection drug use; unprotected heterosexual sexual intercourse; and other means like contaminated medical syringes.

Nearly half (500,000) of those infected in the U.S. are African-Americans. A recent study by the Black AIDS Institute, “Deciding Moment: The State of AIDS in Black America,” notes: “Every year, 56,000 Americans become infected with HIV. Nearly one out of two newly infected people are Black.”

While New York, California and Florida have numerically greater numbers of people living with AIDS, Washington, DC, is the nation’s AIDS capital. Measured on the basis of those infected per 100,000 of the population, Washington has an estimated 119.8 AIDS cases compared to New York’s 24.6, Florida’s 23.7 and California’s 10.2.

While President Obama issued a video message encouraging Americans to get tested for HIV/AIDS to commemorate for National HIV Testing Day and First Lady Michelle Obama visited an HIV/AIDS clinic in Botswana (and even helped paint it) during her recent trip to Africa, these gestures seem pathetic as Washington faces an HIV/AIDS epidemic.

* * *

HIV/AIDS is ravaging minority communities in the U.S., especially the African-American and Hispanic. Black Americans account for 12.6 percent of the U.S. population; when those who identify with more than one race are included, the total is 13.6 percent. Hispanics/Latinos have become the nation’s largest “minority” group, accounting for 16.3 percent of the population. However, African-Americans account for:

§ 45 percent of new HIV infections;

§ 46 percent of people living with HIV;

§ 48 percent of all new AIDS diagnoses; and

§ 57 percent of all HIV-related deaths.

Digging deeper, these figures get even more alarming:

§ Black women account for 61 percent of the HIV infections among women – this is nearly 15 times greater than the rate for white women.

§ Black youth aged 13 to 19 years are only 17 percent of U.S. teenager population, but represent 68 percent of all new AIDS diagnoses among teens.

§ 46 percent of Black gay and bisexual men are infected with HIV, compared to 21 percent of white men and 17 percent of Hispanic males.

This situation is grimmest in Washington, DC. The District has a population of just over 600,000 pepole of which nearly 50 percent are black and 9 percent are Hispanic. A June 2011 D.C. Department of Health report found that the number of HIV/AIDS cases qualified as an epidemic under World Health Organization (WHO) criteria. Among its findings for 2009 are:

§ An estimated 16,721 Washingtonians over the age of 12 were living with HIV/AIDS;

§ 75.2 percent of these with HIV/AIDS were African-American;

§ Residents between 40 and 49 years of age have the highest infection rate among District residents (7,393 per 100,000 residents).

The level of HIV/AIDS in Washington represents 3.2 percent of the population, an infection level greater than in many developing nations. The WHO places an epidemic rate at anything greater than 1 percent of the population.

It must be noted that over the last few years, the number of new HIV/AIS cases in Washington fell by 50 percent. In 2005 the number of deaths from HIV and AIDS was 326 and by 2009 it had fallen to 153 death. DC Mayor Vincent Gray took credit for these developments. “We are getting people diagnosed earlier and into care and treatment faster for their health,” he said, “thereby reducing the chances that others will get infected.”

A comparable pattern is found in New York City. As of yearend 2009, 108,886 people were reported living with HIV/AIDS, of which two-thirds were male. However, nearly 90 percent were minority people, including 52.4 percent Africian-Amerian and 35.5 Hispanic.

Amidst the intensifying economic restructurting and calls by (white) Republicans for fiscal austerity, one can only wonder if we will see a reduction in national (and especially federal) efforts to prevent the spead of HIV/AIDS. Sadly, the likely reduction in preventive efforts will lead to an increase in the number of those infected with HIV/AIDS, especially within minority communities.

* * *

“We pause to mark the thirty years we have been fighting HIV/AIDS,” President Obama recently proclaimed. “As we remember people in our own lives we have lost and stand by those living with HIV/AIDS, we must also rededicate ourselves to finally ending this pandemic – in this country and around the world.”

In July 2010, the Obama administration introduced the National HIV/AIDS Strategy, the nation’s first comprehensive AIDS plan. It is organized around three core goals: to reduce new HIV infections; to increase access to care and improving health outcomes for people living with HIV; and to reduce HIV-related disparities and health inequities.

The U.S. spends $19 billion annually on domestic HIV/AIDS prevention, care and research. Last year, the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services allocated $30 million in a major initative to develop better HIV/AIDS prevention methods. The announcement was met with a ho-hum shrug by AIDS activists. Michael Weinstein of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation expressed the widely shared assessment: “This will be another report that will gather dust on the shelves of the Library of Congress.”

Sadly, any new federal effort will likely have only a marginal impact on the continuing spread of HIV/AIDS within the African-American community. Afrcan-Americans have been disproportionately affected by HIV/AIDS since the epidemic’s beginning and this disparity has only deepened over time.

HIV/AIDS among gay and bisexual black men is more than double that of white men, but the transmission patterns vary between both groups. The “down low” phenomenon has been much commented upon within the African-American media, but heterosexual transmission and injection drug use accounts for a greater share of infections among black men than white men; white men are more likely to have been infected through unprotected homoerotic anal sex.

Most disturbing, newly infected black gay and bisexual men are younger than their white counterparts; those aged 13–29 account for 52 percent of new infections among blacks compared to 25 percent among whites.

Social issues will likely play a secondary role in the 2012 election. Jobs, jobs and the deficit will increasingly dominate politial discource. Politicans are sharpening their knives aggressively in their quest for budgetary expendables. As 235 years of American history has taught us, the poorer and darker you are, the more expendable you are.

While Obama has maintained a relatively consistent support for gay rights (e.g., his effort to end Don’t Ask/Don’t Tell), issues like abortion rights, immigration and gay marriage (i.e., “marriage equality”) have been causalities of his compromiser’s half-step shuffle. In key domestic policy challenges, most acutely exemplified in the health-insurance battle, financial reform struggle and the BP-Gulf disaster, the “good” was sacrificed for the “possible” and the vast majority of Americans came out the loosers in the political sausage-making process.

Short of another major HIV/AIDS crisis similar to that which beset the U.S. in the early ’80s, the country will absorb the likely increase in HIV/AIDS infections over the next few years, especially within African-American and Hispanic communities. This will be one of the unintended consequences of new austerity economics imposed by Republican and complicit Democratic budget cut.

For eleected officials, and the corporate lobbyists who really run Washington, the lives of the poor, especially black and Hispanic, are merely collateral damage in the class war they are waging to maximize profit. Their efforts fit perfectly with the new 21st century American ethos, one in which prejudice has replaced reason and self-interest trumps the social good.

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D.C. Residents See AIDS As City's Biggest Health Problem

Written by Daryl Fears, Peyton Craighill, and Isaac Arnsdorf for the Washington Post

Despite the city’s efforts to prevent the spread of the disease and make treatment available, HIV/AIDS tops the list as the District’s most urgent health problem, according to a new survey by The Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation.

More than a third of city residents single out HIV/AIDS — first identified 30 years ago — as the city’s biggest health concern. Nationally, cancer and obesity get far more mentions.

And the scourge of HIV/AIDS weighs particularly heavily on the minds of African American residents, who suffer from the disease in disproportionate numbers, are far more likely than white residents to raise it as a concern in discussions and more often fret over whether they or their family members will become infected.

More than four in 10 African Americans — 44 percent — say they personally are concerned about contracting HIV, compared with 10 percent of white residents, according to the poll.

“It’s spreading so rapidly in the black community,” said Ahwaneda Brown, reflecting the concern of the 65 percent of African American respondents who fear a family member might get the virus. Only 8 percent of white residents are similarly worried.

Although Brown has not discussed the issue with her adult grandchildren, the 82-year-old retired school counselor said: “I know my daughter has. I have the type of family that will talk with their children because I have talked to mine. We are very open about talking.”

The District has what is considered to be one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS in the nation. More than 3 percent of residents older than 12 — about 16,000 people — are stricken, high enough to be categorized as an epidemic under to a standard set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

Fully three-quarters of residents living with the virus are African Americans, according to the city’s latest annual epidemiology report. It found that 17 percent are white and 5 percent Hispanic.

The disease’s impact is widely noted: nearly seven of 10 African American residents say the spread of HIV/AIDS is a problem in their communities, versus just half of white residents.

About two-thirds of blacks say they know someone directly affected by HIV or AIDS. Across the city, 58 percent of residents say someone they know has the disease or has died of it — far higher than the 41 percent who said so in a national survey from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Potentially contributing to the challenge for the city’s black residents is that they are far less likely than whites to have private health insurance. More than 90 percent of white residents say they get coverage through an employer or another private source, but only 47 percent of black residents say they do.

The D.C. government provides free health care and medicine to residents who have the HIV virus.

But financial difficulties affect the health care of many District residents. Fully 25 percent of African Americans with incomes under $20,000 say they have delayed medical care in the past year because they couldn’t afford it.

Among blacks in households with income under $100,000, 19 percent say they recently have had trouble paying medical bills, compared with 8 percent of whites in that income group.

Calvin Jackson, a 58-year-old building engineer and registered nurse, has private health insurance through his employer, but it does not cover all of the care he and his wife need to treat their Type II diabetes.

The couple have gone to the District’s free clinics twice in the past eight months to supplement their medical and dental care. Jackson’s insurance does not cover his wife’s primary care, so she goes to a hospital emergency room when she becomes sick.

“I have to budget very wisely,” said Jackson, who saves loose change in jars to help pay for part of his health care and who moved from Prince George’s County to a smaller, cheaper home in Northwest Washington. “It’s the only thing I can do to keep my health and my wife’s health going.”

The health coverage divide also extends to dental care, with 80 percent of whites saying they went to a dentist in the past year, while 40 percent of blacks say it’s been a year or more since their last visit. Jackson, who pays for dental care, said six fillings recently cost him $3,300.

A 2004 study on dental care by the health institute of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, a black think tank, concluded that lack of care had an impact on appearance, which affected the ability of job seekers to obtain or keep employment.

But worries over medical and dental coverage do not rise to the level of concern over HIV/AIDS. In the poll, nearly half of African Americans say HIV/AIDS comes up in conversations with family and friends at least sometimes. That’s about double the proportion among whites.

Concern about becoming infected with HIV/AIDS is significantly higher among lower-income and less-educated blacks than it is on the higher ends of the socioeconomic scale.

Leon Williams, 56, a retired machine operator, said he is “very concerned” about AIDS. It’s not so much a personal concern (“I’m in a very strong relationship. I have a person in my life, and we trust each other,” he says) but a matter of frightening statistics.

“This is very serious in the District,” said Williams, who lives in Northeast. “I have a friend personally that has it, and I’ve seen all the drugs he takes to stay alive.”

When African Americans in the District first began to die from the infection, black church ministers often declined requests from relatives to preside over their funerals, a result of the disease’s homosexual stigma, black gay rights activists have said.

But Williams said he continues to respect his friend and would work beside him without reservation. Overall, 76 percent of African American residents and 91 percent of white residents said they would be “very” or “somewhat” comfortable working with someone with HIV or AIDS. Nationwide, 78 percent of Americans felt the same.

The poll was conducted by telephone between May 10 and 31, with a total random sample of 1,342 adults in the District. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.5 percentage points for the full survey, 4 percentage points for the black sample and 6 percentage points for the white sample.

Polling analyst Scott Clement contributed to this report.

 

DC Community Coalition Sends Out Citywide HIV & AIDS Issue Survey

DCC seeks input on the District's most pressing HIV & AIDS related issues to develop advocacy platform for 2012 International AIDS Conference

The DC Community Coalition (DCC) for the 2012 International AIDS Conference aims to develop a policy platform that reflects the will of DC's HIV/AIDS community to inform the City Council, Mayor Gray's HIV/AIDS Commission and the world of the issues most important to address in the local fight against HIV. All are welcome to join in this effort – beginning with completion of the following voluntary survey. You need not complete the entire survey, just questions you would like to answer.
Over the next 2 months the DCC will also host numerous town-hall meetings throughout the city in order to develop a list of specific policy or programmatic recommendations to combat HIV/AIDS in advance of the 2012 International AIDS Conference.  You are welcome to attend any of these meetings, as well as aid in determining a final list of priority recommendations.
For more information on the DCC and how to become involved, please access the following website: http://aids2012.metrolatinoaids.org/ to join our Google group or find us on Facebook: "DC Community Coalition (DCC)". To have a survey emailed or faxed to you, please contact This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it with your contact information.
Here are the questions:
  • What do you believe to be the top three challenges DC faces in its fight to prevent the further spread of HIV?
  • What top three, specific policy or programmatic changes would you recommend to best address the above or other important issues in the local fight against HIV?
  • What are the most significant barriers to HIV testing in the District today?
  • What are the most significant barriers to people receiving treatment for HIV today?
  • Identify an important issue in the fight against HIV/AIDS in DC that does not receive adequate attention by local organizations or public health officials?
  • If you could see one policy change to address the HIV/AIDS crisis implemented between now and the International AIDS Crisis in July 2012, what would it be?
  • What at at-risk community(ies) is(are) most neglected in the city's current fight against HIV/AIDS? Are you a member one of these communities? _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 

Does D.C. really want voting rights? It’s hard to tell.

Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it for The Washington Post

Admit it, D.C. You really don’t want voting rights in Congress. And it must not be all that bad having social conservatives on Capitol Hill helping to manage your money — as well as your morals.

Otherwise, city leaders would be doing more than making empty symbolic gestures in the name of justice and equality.

“It’s time for the people of the District of Columbia to stand up and say we want to be treated like anybody else,” said Mayor Vincent Gray (D), just before he and about half of the D.C. Council staged a flop-down, pout-out in the middle of a city street Monday evening.

As part of their choreographed photo-op “arrest,” 41 protesters were charged with blocking a street. The offense carries a $50 fine, comparable to a parking violation.

Viva la revolucion!

The elected officials were supposedly upset because Republicans in Congress made them stop using city money to provide abortions for low-income women.

But don’t be fooled: City officials aren’t upset because low-income residents will be deprived of critical health services. They just want their hands on the money.

If that was not the case, then Monday’s protest would have included a lot more of the people in whose name the fight was being waged: low-income residents.

“To have an effective social movement, you need leadership that connects to people at the grass roots and gets them organized,” Jack A. Goldstone, a professor of public policy at George Mason University, told me recently.

And if D.C. officials were truly concerned about the grass roots, they would not be imitating their Republican oppressors by trying to balance the city budget on the backs of the poor.

It was Gray, in fact, who as D.C. council chairman in December, pushed through a spending plan that avoided higher taxes but included far-reaching efforts to cut spending on welfare — including stopping direct assistance after five years.

Turns out Gray’s welfare reform was much harsher than anything former mayor Adrian Fenty had proposed and will result in thousands of low-income residents being kicked off the welfare rolls by 2013.

In the wake of the council’s draconian move, Judith Sandalow, executive director of the Children’s Law Center, remarked: “Clearly Mr. Gray knows what the harm will be to families. He has a lifetime of experience working with low-income families, so I don’t understand why he felt a need to do this.”

Now, in the irony of ironies, Gray and members of the D.C. Council are making the same complaint about Congress as low-income people were making about them.

“I’m tired of being a pawn in a political game,” Gray said after being released by U.S. Capitol police. Referring to the backroom deal in which President Obama agreed to let Republicans have their way with the city, Gray said, “It seems the District of Columbia was thrown under the bus.”

Or was it a SUV?

It didn’t take a New York minute for newly elected D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown (D) to get caught using taxpayers’ money to lease not one but two pimped-out Lincoln Navigators — Diddy in the house.

Then Gray steps ankle deep in political dung that brings investigators from a Republican-controlled House swarming like flies over his alleged hiring practices.

Why would either Gray or Brown want to be photographed being hauled away in handcuffs at a time like this?

Look, D.C., nobody expects you to outdo the Egyptian or Tunisian revolutionaries. But as they have demonstrated, you need more than temper tantrums and news conferences in the fight for justice.

“Why were people protesting in such large numbers in Wisconsin and Ohio?” Goldstone said. “Because they felt a direct threat and they knew that if they did nothing, something absolutely critical would happen to them.”

Will D.C. leaders ever be able to instill that sense of urgency about Congressional interference?

Going forward, Gray is calling on churches and civic groups to join in the struggle. That’s not a strategy; it’s political naivete. Not even the most liberal black congregations will have their ministers standing in the pulpit on Sunday mornings advocating self-determination to fund abortions, needles for heroin addicts and legalized marijuana.

“People need to have some belief that their efforts can make a difference,” Goldstone said.

Admit it, D.C. You don’t.

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Mayor Gray, Councilmembers Arrested During Autonomy Protest

This evening, Mayor Vince Gray and several D.C. Councilmembers were arrested by Capitol Police as part of a demonstration in support of D.C. voting rights and autonomy.

Anywhere between 150 and 200 people attended the planned rally this afternoon, including Gray, D.C. Council Chair Kwame Brown and Councilmembers Tommy Wells, Muriel Bowser, Yvette Alexander, Sekou Biddle and Michael A. Brown. This morning, Gray spoke out about the recent budget deal which included riders forcing vouchers and an abortion funding ban on the District, saying that he would have preferred a shutdown over "D.C. becoming the compromise" and that it was "hugely disappointing" that "both parties are in a situation where they aren't respecting our rights." He echoed those remarks during tonight's protest.

"Don't let today be a single moment," Gray told the crowd, also promising to get the abortion and voucher riders out of the bill. "It's time for respect," he added. Gray and the Councilmembers then sat in the middle of Constitution Avenue at 1st Street NE for about 20 minutes before police took action, arresting several citizens, including DC Vote Public Affairs Director Eugene Kinlow as crowds chanted "don't tread on D.C., we demand democracy."

The police initially appeared reluctant to arrest Gray and the the Councilmembers, but eventually made their way through the line around 6:05 p.m., arresting Gray, Kwame Brown, Michael Brown, Wells, Alexander, Bowser, Biddle and Shadow Representative Mike Panetta. Mayor Gray and the arrested Councilmembers were being processed at 67 K Street SW and [were released about 1:00am Tuesday morning].

During last fall's mayoral campaign, Gray said that he would be willing to go to jail as part of civil disobedience exercises for statehood, but added that he'd go "only if anyone here goes with me."

The last mayor to be arrested while in office was Sharon Pratt Kelly, who was arrested during a similar rally in 1993. Gray, of course, worked under Kelly's administration as the Director of the D.C. Department of Human Services.

NBCWashington.com has the video of Gray and Wells being arrested.

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Washington, D.C.: Where Conservative Congressmen Dump Bad Ideas

Written by Martin Austermuhle for The Nation

“John, I will give you DC abortion. I am not happy about it.”

Those words, uttered by President Barack Obama during a meeting with speaker of the House John Boehner, may have averted a shutdown of the federal government late last week, but they did so at the expense of the 600,000 residents of the district of Columbia.

As part of the deal hatched between Obama and Boehner, a controversial proposal to defund Planned Parenthood’s preventive services was taken off the table in budget negotiations, but what remained was a prohibition on the use of the district’s local funds for abortions.

The DC abortion funding ban itself is not new—it was lifted by Congressional Democrats in 2009, adding the district to the list of just twenty-seven states that permit locally raised funds to be spent on abortion care—but its re-emergence is a stark reminder that district residents are still not treated as equal participants in American democracy.

Because of the district’s long-standing status as something of a federal colony, Congress has always reserved the right to govern over local affairs. Though the district gained an elected mayor and city council in 1973, final approval on all legislative and budgetary matters resides with Congress.

If local legislators pass a law, Congress gets to review it for thirty or sixty days; every annual city budget is similarly sent to the Hill, where members of Congress of either party can tinker as much as they see fit.

And tinker they have, mostly on social issues where they can score easy points with advocacy groups without having to worry about being penalized by their own constituents.

In 1998, district residents overwhelmingly voted for a proposed medical marijuana program, but Congressional opponents prohibited city officials from implementing the law. (The charge was led by Georgia Republican Bob Barr, who in 2007 had a change of heart and became a staunch critic of federal drug policies.) That same year, Congress also stopped the district from using local funds for needle-exchange programs—which are vital in a city with an HIV/AIDS rate rivaling that of some African countries.

Republicans have made it an annual ritual to introduce legislation that would not only gut the district’s existing gun laws but also forbid members of the DC Council from ever imposing new ones. And when same-sex marriage became legal in 2010, conservative Republicans repeatedly threatened to introduce legislation that would force the district to put the issue to a divisive public vote.

The examples are as numerous as they can be comical—in 2005, Rep. Henry Bonilla (R-TX) proposed that a long stretch of 16th Street cutting through the heavily Democratic district be renamed “Ronald Reagan Boulevard” and then-Senator Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) pitched using the city as a “laboratory” for a flat-tax scheme.

From 2002 to 2008, Congress even forbade the district from using its own money to advocate for voting rights, statehood or expanded legislative and budgetary autonomy.

During the recent Democratic majority, those prohibitions on needle-exchange programs, abortion, funding for DC voting rights advocacy, and medical marijuana were lifted, allowing local officials a measure of flexibility in governing according to the needs of residents. Funding to needle-exchange providers resumed, and the long-overdue medical marijuana program began to take shape. (It’s due to kick off this year.) Even marriage equality looked safe.

But the new Republican majority wasted no time in launching a full-fledged assault on local autonomy this year, stripping DC Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton of her vote on the House floor, reviving a controversial school voucher program and again pushing to ban local funds for abortions and needle-exchange programs.

Members of the Republican Study Committee even proposed cutting $210 million in spending in the district, cuts that would be disastrous for a city that isn’t allowed to impose taxes on money made by non-residents or on lands owned by the federal government. (All told, according to Standard & Poor’s, 70 percent of all money made  in DC and 68 percent of the city’s land is untaxable.)

The Republican attacks on the district are part politics and part crass opportunism. Not only is the district one of the most Democratic jurisdictions in the country, but Congressional Republicans and conservative Democrats can take stances on social issues in the district without having to answer to the people that would be most affected by them—the city’s residents.

On the bright side, Republican control and the recent fight over the federal budget might have given the movement for DC voting rights, self-determination and statehood much-needed new life. As the shutdown loomed, over 8,000 people RSVP'd to a Facebook event that threatened to take its garbage to Boehner’s Capitol Hill apartment. (The district’s government was facing closure, and trash pickup, among other basic services, would have been suspended.)

In a sternly worded statement, Mayor Vince Gray said he was “angry and terribly disappointed that the district of Columbia suffered collateral damage amidst partisan bickering.” On Monday, he upped the ante by becoming the second mayor in the city’s history to get arrested during a protest for expanded DC rights. He was joined by forty protesters—including six of the DC Council’s thirteen members—in blocking rush-hour traffic in front of a Senate office building.

Even Norton, herself a longtime advocate of local rights, has stepped up the fight—she recently accused Republicans of killing district residents because of their support of the needle-exchange ban and opined that the city should tell Congress “to go straight to hell.”

It shouldn’t take that, but it will take Obama stepping up to defend the district more aggressively. To date, he’s refused to put the city’s standard “Taxation Without Representation” license plates on his limo—President Clinton had them, President Bush removed them—and has remained generally quiet on issues relating to local autonomy and voting rights.

Obama may not have been happy over the abortion compromise, but neither are the district residents who gave him 93 percent of the city’s vote in 2008. The march towards full equality for district residents won’t be easy, but it can begin when presidents and congressmen stop treating the district as a place to dump bad ideas.

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AIDS Activists Arrested Protesting Global Funding Cuts and D.C. Syringe Exchange Ban

Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it for the Housing Works AIDS Issue Update Blog

A dozen AIDS activists were arrested [Monday morning, April 11, 2011] in Washington, D.C., rallying against budget cuts to international aid programs and protesting Republican efforts to bar D.C. from using local tax dollars to fund syringe exchange programs.

Here’s the press release from HealthGAP, which organized the action.

AIDS Activists Arrested Taking Over Republican Leader Eric Cantor’s Office, Protest “Compromise” Global Budget Cuts and Syringe Exchange Ban for DC

House Republican plans will cost the lives of over 1 million people, deny people living with HIV access to effective prevention programs

11 April 2011—Washington, DC: People living with HIV, students, and local DC activists took over the office of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor today as Congress prepared to enact draconian budget cuts to international development programs and negated over whether to deny Washington, DC the right to fund effective syringe exchange programs.

“Majority Leader Cantor and the House Republicans are about to introduce a bill to balance the federal budget on the backs of people living with HIV in Africa,” said Michael Tikili from Health GAP (Global Access Project).

Details of exactly what was in the so-called compromise remained sketchy Monday morning, but based on Republican plans are likely to include hundreds of millions in cuts to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and Malaria and the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. Those plans would cost at least 1 million lives around the world to AIDS and related diseases.

Meanwhile, Congress is reportedly still negotiating over whether to re-impose an extremist policy to bar Washington, DC from using local tax dollars to finance highly effective syringe exchange programs. Washington has the highest HIV rates in the country—in part because syringe exchange was barred for years by previous Republican Congresses, with the affect of thousands of needless HIV infections.

“House Republicans are once again abusing Washington, DC residents in a play to enact their extremist ideology—putting thousands of lives at risk so they can please their base. Syringe exchange programs have been proven effective and cities around the world have cut their HIV rates through their use. Denying science-based HIV prevention to Washington DC leaves blood on the hands of Republican leaders,” said Larry Bryant of DC Fights Back, a local AIDS activist group.

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Applicants With HIV & AIDS Possibly Being Excluded From Jobs

Written by This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it for Digtriad.com

Washington D.C. - The Justice Department says some trade schools and state licensing agencies may be illegally excluding applicants with HIV and AIDS.

People who have HIV and AIDS are protected from discrimination by the Americans With Disabilities Act. But the department says some licensing agencies and schools for barbering, cosmetology, massage therapy, home health care work and other occupations may be denying admission because of HIV status.

The department recently settled with a cosmetology school in Puerto Rico that questioned applicants' HIV & AIDS status and required the school to enroll and HIV positive applicant.

The department said Monday that it has sent letters to attorneys general in all 50 states asking them to identify other programs that violate the act and bring them into compliance.

Mayor Vincent Gray, Chair - HIV & AIDS Commission

Dr. Mohammad Ahkter, Co Chair - HIV & AIDS Commission

Dr. Gregory Pappas, Executive Secretary - HIV & AIDS Commission

Ms Sharon Pratt, Chair - AIDS 2012 Host Committee

Dear Mayor Gray, Dr. Ahkter, Dr. Pappas, Ms. Pratt,

Mayor Gray Convenes First Meeting Of Mayor's Commission On HIV & AIDS

DC Appleseed Releases Sixth Annual Report Card on HIV & AIDS in the Nation's Capital

Washington, DC – Mayor Vincent C. Gray today swore in and convened the first meeting of the Mayor’s Commission on HIV & AIDS. Mayor Gray created the Commission to help end the HIV epidemic in the District of Columbia. The Commission will focus on treatment, the needs of people living with HIV & AIDS, and prevention to stop new infections.

“I am grateful to all of the community leaders who have agreed to come together to address the critical epidemic of HIV & AIDS in the District of Columbia,” said Gray.  “By uniting the government with experts in the field of HIV and respected members of the community, we can create a comprehensive approach to treating and ending an epidemic which has affected our entire city leaving no ward or community untouched.”

At the first meeting, Gray charged the Commission with three core responsibilities aimed at providing the HIV & AIDS, Hepatitis, STD and TB Administration (HAHSTA) with guidance towards the development of a strategic plan:

1. Develop evidence-based HIV & AIDS policy recommendations to help reduce HIV infection rates; increase HIV testing utilization; improve access to quality medical, substance abuse, mental health treatment, and housing for all persons with HIV/AIDS; and to determine the best way to achieve “treatment on demand” in the District.

2. In concert with the National HIV & AIDS Strategy, develop recommendations regarding coordination of the District‘s HIV & AIDS Strategy which will include: a) providing recommendations for public-private partnerships to address the continuum and capacity of health care delivery, programs, and related services; and  b)providing recommendations regarding coordination and collaboration across jurisdictional and international boundaries.

3. Develop recommendations to control the epidemic, while simultaneously creating training and employment opportunities within the District.

“In order for us to improve on the progress already made in the fight against HIV & AIDS, and really make a difference by decreasing the rate of new infections and improving the care for our residents living with HIV & AIDS, we must engage the entire community,” said Dr. Mohammad Akhter, Director of the Department of Health.  “This Commission brings together our established partners with new organizations to increase the scope, influence, and impact of our work, so that we can increase our success in this critical area.”

DC Appleseed Sixth Report Card on HIV & AIDS (click here for report card)

As evidence of Gray’s commitment to making HIV & AIDS a priority of his Administration, he invited DC Appleseed to present its latest report card on HIV & AIDS at the first meeting of the Commission.  Gray believes that successful strategies, initiatives, and programs are based on sound data and research, and DC Appleseed’s report will be one tool used to help guide the work of the Commission.  In addition to unveiling the grades in the 13 categories on which the District is rated, the report also recommended HIV & AIDS priorities for the new Administration.  Mayor Gray is the third District of Columbia Mayor to work with DC Appleseed to improve the District’s response to HIV & AIDS.

DC Appleseed raised or maintained the District’s grades in seven areas:

  • Condom Distribution improved from a B+ to A-
  • Youth Initiatives improved from a B to B+
  • Substance Abuse Treatment improved from a B to B+
  • HIV Testing remained an A
  • HIV/AIDS Among the Incarcerated remained an A
  • Interagency Coordinated remained an A-
  • Monitoring and Evaluation remained a B-

DC Appleseed decreased the District’s grade in four areas:

  • HIV Surveillance went from an A to A-
  • Grants Management went from a B+ to B
  • Syringe Exchange & Complementary Services went from a B+ to B
  • Leadership went from a B+ to B

Mayor Gray fulfilled two of the report’s five recommendations for the new Administration within his first two months in office. The recommendation to make HIV & AIDS a top Administration priority was addressed in Gray’s inaugural speech, while the recommendation to engage the entire city in the fight against HIV & AIDS was addressed when the formation of the Commission was announced in February.

Mayor's Commission on HIV & AIDS Members (3.8.11):

Vincent C. Gray, Mayor, Chair

Allen Lew, City Administrator

Beatriz “BB” Otero, Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services

Dr. Mohammad Akhter, Director, DOH, Co-Chair

Councilmember David Catania, At-Large
Councilmember Jim Graham, Ward 1

Dr. Gregory Pappas, Senior Deputy Director for HAHSTA, Secretariat

Steve Baron, Director, Department of Mental Health (DMH)

Deborah Carroll, Interim Director, Department of Human Services (DHS)

Kaya Henderson, Interim Chancellor, DC Public Schools (DCPS)

Thomas Hoey, Interim Director, Department of Corrections (DOC)
Marco Aguilar, Vice President and Chief of Staff, DC Chamber of Commerce

Jeffrey Akman, Interim Vice Provost for Health Affairs, George Washington University

Cornelius Baker, National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition

Sharon Baskerville, DC Primary Care Association

Don Blanchon, CEO, Whitman Walker
Dr. Frederick Finelli, President, Medical Society of the District of Columbia

Isaac Fullwood, Chairman, US Parole Commission

Dr. Lisa Fitzpatrick, Associate Professor of Medicine, Howard University

Janelle Goetcheus, UNITY Healthcare

Dr. Bruce Rashbaum, Private Practice, Internal Medicine

Additional identified members will be named to the Commission at a future date once the appointment process is completed.

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Safety Shortfall

Mayor creates new HIV/AIDS entity, while groups struggle to secure condoms

Written by Yusef Najafi for MetroWeekly

Mayor Vince Gray (D) will be appointing 27 people from the medical, faith and business communities in D.C., to serve on a newly developed Commission on HIV & AIDS.

According to a Feb. 25 press release from the mayor's office, ''The Commission will focus on treatment, the needs of people living with HIV/AIDS and the prevention to stop new infections.'' Gray will serve as chair of the commission.

Gray also announced that that the D.C. Department of Health will be launching new initiatives to improve its services for D.C. residents living with HIV/AIDS.

The promise in improving the department's services is good news for The Center, the area's LGBT community center. The Center's HIV Working Group has – three times in the past year – experienced a shortage of condoms used in assembling safer-sex kits. Those condoms come from the city via the Department of Health.

According to Dan O'Neill, a member of the HIV Working Group and its former chair, a recent shortage prompted his group to organize a discussion with other organizations affected by the shortage.

O'Neill says that when his group invited members of Health Department to attend that meeting, 10,000 condoms were abruptly made available, with 4,000 going to his HIV Working Group.

''A lot of suggestions that I've made when we've come to this crossroads multiple times in the past don't seem to have been implemented, in particular having tracking numbers for all people who on a long-term basis are receiving large quantities [of condoms] from the Department of Health,'' says O'Neill.

''We just want to have an open dialogue,'' he adds. ''This isn't about pointing fingers at the Department of Health. At the end of the day, these organizations don't have condoms – and suddenly they found 10,000. … We wanted to let other people know that they have 6,000 more to help people bridge the gap in the interim.''

The Health Department was unable to respond to a request for comment by Metro Weekly deadline.

For more on The Center's HIV Working Group, visit thedccenter.org/programs_fighthivindc.html.

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Black Church Leaders Ask Forgiveness From the LGBT Community

In an unusual meeting, several ministers apologize to gays about how they have been treated.

 

A rather unusual event recently took place in the Washington, D.C., suburb of Fort Washington, Md. Several ministers of black churches met with members of the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender) community -- and formally apologized for what the organizers described as the church's judgmental attitude toward individuals who experience same-sex attraction and their loved ones.

Although a sincere apology is often the first step to restoring a fractured relationship, our culture has made public apologies into a performance art, characterized by carefully scripted PR creations and only token acknowledgments of actually having done wrong.

It was with this skepticism that I attended the forum at Carolina Missionary Baptist Church on Feb. 19, billed as an opportunity for people to express their thoughts and feelings in a safe environment. Anthony E. Moore, pastor of Carolina, moderated the dialogue and stated up front that the forum was not intended to be one in which the church took a theological position on homosexuality. My pastor, Keith Battle, attended on behalf of Zion Church, and other sponsoring churches included Pilgrim Baptist Church in D.C. and New Vision Church in Bowie, Md.

When I arrived, someone was recounting what it has been like to be born a man while feeling, and ultimately living, like a woman. The speaker explained that she turned to prostitution and drugs after experiencing rejection from members of her family and church. She said that eventually she came back to church, committed her life to Christ and started to translate her pain into purpose.

There were similar stories throughout the two-hour forum, all with one common theme: The church, the one place that should represent the epitome of love, was often the most uncaring and unsafe place for these individuals when they were at their most vulnerable. Bishop Kwabena Rainey Cheeks, the openly gay pastor of Inner Light Ministries, a nondenominational church in Washington, bluntly declared that "the most dangerous place for a gay and lesbian person is the black church."

Moore listened intently as people shared their experiences, often taking notes while they spoke. Toward the end of the event, he reinforced the sincerity of the church's apology by pledging to continue the dialogue and to make concerted efforts to make his ministry more inclusive of members of the LGBT community.

This forum took place at an interesting moment, given evidence that suggests changes in American views on both Christianity and sexuality. A 2009 survey found that while a majority of Americans identified themselves as Christians, that percentage had declined 11 percent since 1990. Christianity faces competition not only from Judaism and Islam, the two other branches that emerged from the Abrahamic religious root, but also from Hinduism and Buddhism -- as well as atheism.

One in five Americans surveyed said that they have no religious identity, and one in four said that they did not expect to have a religious funeral. The data confirm what most people have come to understand anecdotally: The country is becoming more diverse religiously, and Americans are becoming more comfortable with this pluralism. Many people who grew up in a particular faith have either eschewed formal religion altogether or embraced an à la carte syncretism, where melding multiple faiths and/or philosophies is covered under the nondescript banner of "spirituality."

Many traditional Protestant African-American churches have taken the fire-and-brimstone approach to preaching about sexuality and the LGBT community. Interestingly enough, this tactic rarely gets deployed for many of the other "thou shalt not"s that are enshrined in the Bible. In truth, many Christians have cloaked their personal revulsion to homosexuality in a thin veneer of religiosity.

While it may reinforce some people's sense of self-righteousness, shrouding hatred in Scripture makes for bad doctrine and even worse evangelism. Jesus built his ministry by spreading the gospel to people who were scorned by society. In addition to healing lepers and restoring sight to the blind, Jesus was criticized by the contemporary religious rulers for associating too closely with individuals they deemed unworthy.

Although the image of a preacher declaring eternal damnation resonates with many members of the LBGT community, not all churches have taken this position. A recent New York Times article cited U.S. Census Bureau data indicating that child rearing among same-sex couples is more common in the South than in any other part of the country, and found eight churches in Jacksonville, Fla., that openly welcome gay worshippers. It remains to be seen, however, to what extent the recent forum and the demographic trends in historically conservative regions foreshadow a broader shift in black churches' attitudes toward gays and lesbians.

The benefits of such a dialogue are not confined to Christians or members of the LGBT community. For years, the black church has been criticized for its lack of action in the fight against the spread of HIV and AIDS in the African-American community. This was undoubtedly in part because of doctrinal dissonance between messages about safe sex and HIV prevention, and biblical positions on the prohibition of sexual intimacy outside of a marital context. Regardless of the reasons, the outcome has been a deafening silence from one of the black community's most effective institutions for social change.

Washington, D.C., has the nation's highest rate of HIV and AIDS, and men who have sex with men are disproportionately affected by the disease. The black church cannot continue to be silent on such a critical health issue. Thankfully, other institutions have stepped in to fill the void. In 2009 the D.C. Department of Health provided on-the-spot STD testing during the orientation for the city's nationally recognized summer youth-employment program. In addition, many nonprofit organizations are dedicated to providing health education and services to residents of the District and surrounding jurisdictions. Even with the valiant efforts of these organizations, our communities would be even better off if the power of all institutions in civil society were harnessed for collective good.

Faith leaders should not shy away from confronting issues that affect both the spiritual and material condition of their communities. The church should be a place where all people, especially those who are hurting and vulnerable, can come to experience God's love and grace. This should be true regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, political affiliation or sexual orientation. In the same sense, critics must understand that pastors have an obligation to maintain fidelity to both the letter and spirit of the Scriptures, even in the face of changing social mores and religious pluralism.

The tension between black churches' theological stances on homosexuality and their central principle of "whosoever will, let him come" is something that churches must address honestly and lovingly in moving forward.

Delano Squires is a contributor to Black and Married With Kids and a graduate student in social policy at George Washington University. Follow him on Twitter.

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The HIV-Car: HIV-Related Stigma and Invisible Theater

"Excuse me, do you have a moment for public safety?"

Submitted by This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it , Volunteer Coordinator - Pediatric AIDS & HIV Care

One in twenty DC residents is infected with HIV. And twenty in twenty play a role in the system that stigmatizes them.

This past Wednesday, a group of volunteers visited Pediatric AIDS/HIV Care, an after-school therapy and enrichment program. Pediatric AIDS/HIV Care works with families whose youth are infected or affected by HIV, and who deal daily with society’s stigma. These volunteers, from Teens Against the Spread of AIDS, did public educational theater on the streets of the District and found, right below the surface, the powerful current of stigma that still keeps HIV-positive people down.

The teen volunteers used a technique called Invisible Theater, developed by Brazilian activists in the 1970’s, to focus public attention on HIV. In the scenario, two people play characters from the ‘Safe Metro Coalition,’ an imaginary group promoting the equally imaginary ‘HIV-Car Campaign.’ The goal of these two characters: to get passers-by to sign a petition segregating HIV-positive people in the metro.

You might think we got rid of this in 1954, when Brown v. Board of Education ended racial segregation in schools. You might think that stigma doesn’t really exist anymore, that discrimination passed out of fashion. These volunteers found otherwise.

"I was extremely shocked that my group actually got signatures,” writes one actor. “I was utterly appalled by the number of people who actually signed the petition,” writes another. A third tells a story: “ ‘You can tell, just by looking at them, if they have HIV,’ we said. And people actually believed us!”

Another performer in each group had the role of bringing the spectator back to sanity. This actor progressed from “Hey, excuse me. I’m sorry to interrupt; I want to know where’s the metro” to “Hey, do you know what you’re signing?” The strongest efforts of the lost stranger rarely convinced passers-by. Writes one actor: “Even once my friend and I, the ‘strangers,’ pointed out how wrong the petition was, people were unwilling to change their answer.”

Several moments of depressing creativity arose spontaneously from the spectators. One actor describes, “One of the people I encountered was very for the idea, and even was trying to give me ideas for funding and how to expand the project.” Another shares: “One woman said that HIV-infected people should have red dots on their head so that we are able to identify them.” Let’s bring back yellow stars for the Jews, while we’re at it.

There were also glimmers of hope, like the husband who refused to let his wife convince him to sign, or the two women who walked off arguing with each other about ways of catching HIV. One actor writes, “The best part of my experience was when a man refused to sign. He said I had no right to ‘ghettoize’ people with HIV.”

To all who signed our petition, we sent a follow-up email explaining who we really are and what they really ‘signed.’ To those who valiantly resisted, we have no names, only the memory of their refusal to discriminate. Those anonymous people, writes an actor, “give me hope that we can change this stigmatization.” The next time you ride the metro, please consider taking a moment for public safety – and for justice for all.

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A Statement on the Closure of PreventionWorks! from its Board of Directors

Posted from PreventionWorks! February 8, 2011

On February 25, 2011, PreventionWorks! will close its operations after over 12 years of life‐saving services as a non‐profit organization supporting individuals struggling with drug use and interrelated social and health challenges. PreventionWorks! has been a trail‐blazing effort in the nation’s capital to offer a practical set of prevention and health promotion strategies, including access to sterile syringes, to reduce the harmful consequences of drug use while treating drug users with respect and dignity. Most notably, PreventionWorks! has played an invaluable role in the prevention of HIV transmission, undoubtedly saving thousands of lives. In 2007, over 26% of women and 18% of all people living with HIV/AIDS in the District of Columbia reported contracting the disease from injection drug use.

PreventionWorks! began in 1996 as a project of the Whitman‐Walker Clinic. In 1998, PreventionWorks! incorporated as its own organization after the U.S. Congress passed legislation forbidding the District of Columbia from using its local government funds to support harm reduction services and prohibiting organizations that received federal funding from operating a syringe exchange program, even if funded with private donations. Like most harm reduction organizations across the country, financial viability for PreventionWorks! was always a challenge, but numerous private foundations and grantmaking charities and an army of volunteers helped sustain its work. In 2007, the law was changed to allow DC government funds to support syringe exchange. As a result, PreventionWorks! and several other local organizations began receiving DC government funding for their prevention programs.

Recent government support was critical to giving PreventionWorks! the potential for staying power, but unfortunately the organization was ultimately unable to build and sustain the financial and organizational capacity worthy of its work. As a result, the Board of Directors decided to close the agency so supporters could turn their resources and volunteerism to more sustainable organizations. The PreventionWorks! Board of Directors feels great sadness and disappointment toward this ending, but made the difficult decision based on financial realities. The closure of the agency marks the end of a historic chapter in the city’s battle against HIV/AIDS. PreventionWorks! closes with 11 dedicated staff and hundreds of volunteers.

In part due to the advocacy and endurance of PreventionWorks!, government funds became available for harm reduction and syringe exchange, and as a result, other organizations in Washington, DC now provide such services. While PreventionWorks! made unique contributions to the District’s public health system that will not easily be replaced, it is fortunate that PreventionWorks! is shutting its doors at a time when there are other options for clients. Still, outreach and support services for drug users, including sterile syringe access, are not nearly to scale. In the absence of PreventionWorks!, it will be critical for the government and private funders to increase their support for those organizations that can step up to fill the void.

The PreventionWorks! Board of Directors would like to thank the private donors that supported the organization for so many years when the government could not, and the DC Department of Health for its critical support in more recent years. The Board also salutes the past and current staff who can stand tall for having saved thousands of lives over the past 12 years and for believing that any positive change in an individual’s life is indeed positive change. Even as the organization closes, PreventionWorks! staff has put the clients first. Above all, we acknowledge the courage and resilience of the PreventionWorks! clients themselves, who, despite the disease and stigma of drug use, have continued to persevere through their journeys of recovery in a society that has failed to provide adequate and effective resources for people struggling with addiction.

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D.C. Mayor Announces New Appointees To Head City Offices

Posted from www.myfoxdc.com

WASHINGTON,D.C. - Gray announced Friday that Beatriz Otero will serve as Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services and Gregory Pappas will lead the HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Disease and Tuberculosis Administration. Otero is the founder of CentroNia, an educational organization.

Pappas, who recently worked on mental health and HIV programs with the U.S. Agency for International Development, has a soon-to-be published book on urban public health.

Other appointments announced were Charles Thornton to direct the Office of Ex-Offender Affairs, Cedric Jennings to oversee the Youth Advisory Council, Ngozi Nmezi to head the Office of African Affairs and William White to oversee the Department of Insurance, Securities and Banking.

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DC Fights Back To Host 'Home Is LIFE' World AIDS Day Rally

DC Activists call on the new City Mayor and City Council to develop a comprehensive strategy to address the severe HIV epidemic in DC

Contact: Christine Campbell,  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 202.409.9786

Dozens of activists concerned about the growing numbers of people living with HIV & AIDS on the AIDS housing wait list as well as the low income housing wait list will gather at Freedom Plaza (corner of 14th Street NW & Pennsylvania Avenue NW) on December 1 - World AIDS Day - between 11:30a-12:30pm.

It was just a little over four years ago when city leaders were "shocked" and "appalled" to find out that one in 50 District residents was believed to be living with full blown AIDS. We got another "wake up call" on March 17, 2009 with the release of the new data which revealed that the spread of HIV had grown to a "severe epidemic" in the District. Yet another "wake up call" ensued when a series of Washington Post reports written by Jose Antonio Vargas, Debbie Cenziper and others on the D.C.'s epidemic and the government's mismanagement of funds and lack of visible direction which led to the making of the documentary 'The Other City', produced by prominent city leader Sheila Johnson and directed by D.C. resident Susan Koch. This powerful documentary depicts the importance of housing as a structural for both prevention and access to care in addressing HIV & AIDS.

So the question is again, how many wake up calls" do we need? "If we are truly serious about ending the epidemic in D.C., we also need to address homelessness and no more shelters can be closed", says Omolola Adele-Oso, Secretary of D.C. Fights Back.

The Fiscal Year 2010 D.C. Department of Health Performance Plan's ambitious goal for housing actually goes backward - calling for 11 LESS units of HIV & AIDS housing than 2008 despite epidemic numbers growing. As confirmed in the Post articles, we have seen the District's $12.2 million in federal HIV & AIDS housing funding threatened due to this gross mismanagement. Since 2008, we have seen the wait list grow over 200% to almost 1000 individuals living with HIV & AIDS added to wait list that currently has no plan to provide relief for those added on a monthly basis.

In July the White House released the first ever National HIV & AIDS Strategy designed to address the U.S. epidemic in a comprehensive and measurable way by (1) reducing new HIV infections, (2) reducing HIV & AIDS related illness, and (3) increasing access to care and optimizing health outcomes and little to no response has come from the city with the highest HIV rates in the country about how to align a city wide strategy that mirrors those outcomes. Perhaps Mayor-elect Vincent Gray's December 1 visit to the White House at President Barack Obama's request will include a conversation that talks about just that. And perhaps the two leaders will also discuss the impact of hosting the 2012 International AIDS Conference right here in Chocolate City and how we - the District and the U.S. - will present our response to a global community of over 30,000. New infection rates that are worse than Port Au Prince, Haiti - the poorest city in the Western Hemisphere? District of Columbia. Highest death rate due to HIV related illness? Again, D.C. (stats courtesy of www.statehealthfacts.org)

Stay tuned for that.

We hope that a new administration in D.C. means new optimism and a renewed trust in what our city's leaders say AND do regarding the HIV & AIDS epidemic. Mayor-elect Gray has talked publicly about supporting the implementation of a comprehensive strategy. In a meeting with one of Council Chair-elect Kwame Brown' high level staffers there was a sincere interest in the benefits of what a comprehensive, city wide, and multi-agency strategy means to a city that is floundering with how to deal not only the massive HIV epidemic but the closings of shelters for homeless and the reduction and/or elimination of many supportive services for those most in need.

Our D.C. neighbors and neighborhoods choose to Fight Back!

We Demand:

  • A Washington D.C. comprehensive HIV & AIDS plan in line with the National HIV & AIDS Strategy that identifies and fills those gaps in service - including housing - and sets ambitious time-framed goals and targets, as well as including a strategy for accountability.
  • Housing for every person on the HIV & AIDS housing wait list and developing a strategy that prevents the list from growing again.
  • No more closed homeless shelters.
  • An accounting of the funds to address HIV & AIDS and homelessness in the Washington D.C. Eligible Metropolitan Area (D.C., metro-Maryland, metro-Virginia, West Virginia).

Contact: Christine Campbell,  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or 202.409.9786

 

 


 

D.C Will Quiz Doctors' HIV & AIDS Knowledge To Ensure Better Screening

By Lena H. Sun, Washington Post Staff Writer

Tuesday November 16 2010

The District government plans to ask the city's more than 4,000 private doctors how much they know about HIV/AIDS as part of a broad effort to urge them to offer routine screening for a disease that has been diagnosed in more than 3 percent of Washingtonians.

Starting Wednesday, the health department will e-mail the physicians asking them to complete a 15-question online survey. They'll be asked to rank the parts of the city and age groups with the highest prevalence rate and to say whether they are aware of the local and federal recommendations about screening. The survey will run through Dec. 3.

The District's HIV/AIDS prevalence rate is the highest of any city in the nation.

Officials and advocates say local studies and anecdotal evidence point to a gap in understanding among doctors about the severity of the epidemic in Washington.

Many doctors may think that only high-risk groups need regular testing, the officials said. But since 2006, the city's health department has recommended that all residents ages 13 to 84 be screened annually for HIV, the illness that causes AIDS.

"If you're a D.C. resident and you're sexually active, you are in a high-risk network called Washington, D.C.," said John Newsome, a spokesman for the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, TB and Malaria, a nonprofit group that is working with the District government to increase testing and helped develop the survey questions.

"We suspect there are gaps in doctors' understanding of testing guidelines that have changed considerably, and we really hope to understand where they are so we can address any gaps," Newsome said.

A common misperception among many doctors is that the disease affects mostly young people. But the largest share of new diagnoses are among people in their 40s and 50s, according to District data.

Officials say one of the most effective measures to combat the disease is increasing routine voluntary screening, starting in the doctor's office.

Health department studies conducted in 2008 and 2009 found that 75 percent of those with a recent HIV diagnosis, including heterosexual, gay and bisexual residents, had been to at least one medical provider within the previous 12 months. Experts consider those missed opportunities to catch the disease earlier.

Sometimes, the diagnosis does not take place until a patient goes to the emergency room.

"People come in with sprained ankles or cuts or have rashes - all the normal stuff that brings them to an emergency room - and we run a routine HIV screen, and it turns out a number are infected with HIV," said Jeremy Brown, director of emergency department HIV screening at George Washington University Hospital.

The rapid bedside test takes 20 minutes, involves swabbing the gums and is extremely reliable, he said.


Does New Leadership In The District Mean A New Urgency To End The HIV & AIDS Epidemic?

In August, Mayor-To-Be Vincent Gray participated in DCFB's HIV & AIDS Candidates Forum in which he took questions from community members as well as people living with HIV & AIDS about topics and/or solutions to the District's epidemic. Here is an article from the September 11 DC Examiner that lays out many of his answers (and 'non-answers') and may give and insight to goals set by his administration.

Vincent Gray has not shied away from the issue of HIV in DC but he has not been forthright about a solid plan of action either. He willingly participated in an interview about his stance in this column and in a forum sponsored by DC Fights Back in August. But his campaign speeches, commercials, and website doesn’t specify how he will address the issues that are exclusive to HIV and the populations that are greatly affected by it. However, that didn’t stop him from responding to lingering questions from audience members at last month’s forum. Here are some questions and his responses issued on Friday.

AM: HIV divides and conquers! What will you do to build bridges between siloed communities, geographic area and service organization to prevent the infighting that causes us to lose ground? Would you support a coordinated strategy? How do we make HIV a DC Problem, not just a gay or a black or a female or a Ward 7/8 problem?

VG: HIV/AIDS is one of the District’s top public health challenges, and yet the sense of urgency around the epidemic seems non-existent. My administration will renew and redouble efforts around prevention, and put in place a comprehensive multi-year plan to control and turn back the growth of this epidemic in our community. We will work to reduce prejudice and stigma in the community, and open dialogue about how best to address issues in the community.

AM: The interactions between law enforcement and sex workers, as well as law enforcement policies and practices of law enforcement can be counter-productive to the promotion of public health and the prevention of HIV. Specifically, what would you do about prostitution free zones?


VG: Prostitution Free Zones demand that we strike a balance between public health and public safety. Prostitution Free Zones were designed to offer our Chief of Police another tool to fight quality of life crimes in our neighborhoods. However, since this provision has been instituted there have been a number of reported abuses and mistreatment of residents profiled as prostitutes and sex workers.
As Mayor, I will conduct a citywide review of policies, procedures, practices and legislation regarding the policing and regulation of prostitution in the District of Columbia, and ensure that our police officers are held accountable for any mistreatment or abuse. A Gray Administration will work with law enforcement, public health officials, service providers, community members and advocates to develop effective supports for marginalized communities, while maintaining the quality of life for all of our residents.

AM: As Mayor, what will you do to see that the very specific mental health needs of people living with HIV/AIDS and their families/partners are being appropriately addressed in terms of assessment, evaluation and treatment in the District of Columbia?

VG: Creating a robust community-based mental health system will be a priority of my Administration. Access to services for people living with HIV/AIDS and their families has been limited at best. As our need for mental health services continues to rise, we must tackle this challenge head on.
The District of Columbia stands to save tens of millions of dollars as a result of the Medicaid expansions provided by the Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA), and as Mayor, I plan to direct a portion of these savings to our community-based mental health services, with special emphasis on assessment, evaluation and treatment of those with HIV/AIDS; the creation of School-based mental health services and expansion of school-based health clinics.

AM: Why is the medical marijuana program being assigned to monitoring of the Liquor Board? Shouldn't it be the Department of Health staff that does the actual site monitoring for a medical, not recreational, service?

VG: The current administration has opted to vest regulatory control of the medical marijuana program in the Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA), making the District the first jurisdiction to vest control outside of the city’s Department of Health. This proposed rulemaking will be taken up by the Council of the District of Columbia upon our return from recess. As Mayor, I will ensure that all Health related functions rest clearly with our Department of Health.

AM: As a person who has taught HIV Prevention in DC Public Schools, I noticed that almost 99% of the students in my classes did not know 1) what HIV is; 2) How people get HIV and 3) That HIV is an epidemic in their own district. How do you plan to integrate an effective, relevant HIV Prevention curriculum in an already failing school system?

VG: I believe that we need an ‘all hands on deck’ approach to the HIV epidemic. My Administration will focus on reducing the spread of the epidemic, increasing access to treatment, and reducing stigmatization of the disease through effective education efforts, testing, and condom distribution. Specifically, as Mayor, I will champion high quality reproductive health education and services for our young people, ensuring uniformity and continuity across all public and charter schools; continued expansion of STI screening programs in our schools; and expansion of our School Based Health Centers.

- By Candace Monatgue

 

 

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