Fighting HIV/AIDS in Washington, DC
June 27, 2011
National HIV Testing Day is an appropriate time to reflect on our efforts to confront the HIV/AIDS epidemic. As recently as 5 years ago, the District had no way to track the spread of the epidemic. We had no way to scientifically measure the effectiveness of our response to the disease, no way to know what changes were needed to improve that response. The recent release of the District’s report on HIV/AIDS is the fourth iteration of this annual epidemiological study. The report gives strong evidence that the District is, at long last, beginning to mount an effective response to the epidemic.
Evidence-based, data-driven strategies such as our needle exchange program, improved school health curriculum, a program that has distributed more than 4 million condoms, and a nationally-recognized advertising and social media campaign promoting condom use are proving effective. According to our data, we have seen a greater than 50% reduction in deaths among persons infected with the disease over the last four years. We have witnessed a nearly equal reduction in the percent of individuals transitioning from HIV to AIDS in the same time period.
The District’s overall infection rate is likely to remain high, ironically, because of our efforts to aggressively confront the disease. By testing more people and connecting them with life-saving medication faster and more frequently, HIV positive individuals will live longer and healthier lives. While this will keep the District’s infection rate at epidemic levels for years to come, these are clearly positive trends and evidence of an effective response to the disease.
Next summer, the District will host the world’s leading HIV/AIDS researchers, experts, and advocates at the International AIDS Society’s annual convention, AIDS 2012. The conference will be a phenomenal opportunity for the city to show the 20,000-plus attendees that despite tremendous challenges, the District’s aggressive efforts to combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic are working.