The stark reality that Washington, D.C. still ranks highly among cities in the number of HIV/AIDS cases cannot overlook the progress the city has made to address heath epidemics. A new report by the mayor’s office and the Department of Health (DOH) suggested that efforts to slow new cases of HIV/AIDS, hepatitis, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted disease have worked.

According to the “District of Columbia HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD and TB Epidemiology Report 2010 Update,” D.C. residents are treated earlier in their HIV diagnosis, there are fewer deaths among AIDS patients, and TB cases have declined.

More than 75 percent of people diagnosed with HIV entered treatment within three months—an increase from 58 percent in 2005—the report states. The number of deaths among those who have HIV/AIDS has decreased by more than half—from 326 in 2005 to 153 in 2009. There were 41 cases of TB in 2009, a decline of 13 from 2008.

An increase in HIV testing and more health care access may be responsible for the decline. In 2010, D.C. gave 110,000 HIV tests to residents—triple the number in 2006. The city distributed 4 million free condoms in 2010 and free voluntary STD testing was given to 5,000 young residents.

Although statistics suggest D.C. has shown improvement in awareness to fight deadly diseases, the study revealed that health disparities still remain a challenge, especially among African Americans.

Phill Wilson, founder and executive director of the Black AIDS Institute, said education is the underlying factor to help fight the deadly disease among Blacks.

“As a result of our lack of education—not to be confused with lack of awareness, there is a lot of awareness about HIV/AIDS in the black community—we are reluctant to find out our HIV status, less likely to protect ourselves, slow to seek treatment, often unable or unwilling to adhere the regiments,” he wrote in an e-mail.

While African Americans suffer disproportionately from health disparities, the study revealed new disparities among other populations, including older adults and Hispanics.
AIDS cases among those 50 years and older have increased from 19 percent in 2005 to 26 percent in 2009. More than 70 percent of these adults test late; Hispanics were also late testers.

The mayor also released a new study called “HIV, Injection Drug Use: IDUs and HIV Infection in D.C.,” which showed a 13 percent HIV rate among active drug users. One out of five participants shared needles and three-quarter shared “works,” items related to drug use, including cookers, cotton swabs and water. As a result of findings, the study recommended an increase of free needles, through the needle-exchange program, the city currently offers.

D.C.’s needle-exchange program has been heavily debated in Congress, as Republicans threaten to cut its funding in the 2011 budget. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and other home rule supporters will host a rally June 25 in front of the White House to save the needle-exchange program and fight the abortion ban.

 

Erica Butler

AFRO Staff Writer