Latest HIV/AIDS report card is mixed bag for D.C. leaders

November 13, 2013

D.C. Appleseed has issued its HIV/AIDS report card every year since 2005. (D.C. Appleseed Center for Law and Justice)

Updated 2:35 p.m. with Gray comments

The District government’s recent efforts at combating HIV and AIDS garnered a mixed review in the latest assessment from a city think tank, which says the city “has made progress … but areas of uncertainty remain about the District’s plans for the future.”

Marks regressed in five of the 13 areas in which the city was graded by the D.C. Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, with higher grades in three areas: testing, condom distribution and access to clean syringes. The city was graded in two areas for the first time, receiving a B for HIV treatment and care and a C-plus for housing.

“[W]e cannot avoid the stark reality that the epidemic continues to have a profound impact on the District of Columbia,” the report said. “Although significant progress has been made in addressing the epidemic, there are continuing challenges, and several grades have decreased since last year.”

This year’s report card is the eighth issued by D.C. Appleseed, an policy advocacy group funded mainly by large Washington law firms. It comes as city officials have touted ongoing declines in key indicators of the city’s HIV/AIDS epidemic, including a 46 percent drop in newly reported HIV cases between 2007 and 2011, the most recent year for which statistics are available.

Despite the progress, the new report card says the city “still has much further to go to end the epidemic,” with virus transmission rates barely budging and data showing the highest percentage of new HIV cases among District residents in their 20s. D.C. Appleseed downgraded the city performance in the following areas:

• Leadership, citing turnover atop the Health Department and a “perceived lack of vision and communication”;

• Grants management, citing a new process for distributing federal grant funds;

• HIV surveillance, citing a two-year lag in data reporting;

• Monitoring and evaluations, citing the delayed rollout of a unified HIV patient tracking system;

• And public education, citing a “glaring deficiency of HIV/AIDS education within public charter schools” — which Appleseed blamed on poor oversight from the State Superintendent of Education.

The new report makes several specific recommendations to Mayor Vincent C. Gray, including doing a better job incorporating HIV/AIDS education in public school curricula, particularly at charter schools; improving relationships with service providers; and better implementing federal health care reforms to help residents with HIV/AIDS.

Gray and his public health deputies appeared with Appleseed representatives Wednesday at a John A. Wilson Building news conference. After last year’s report card, officials disputed some of the findings, saying the group had misinterpreted some data. There appeared to be no such concerns this year.

“We’ve come a long ways, and we’ve got a long ways to go, which I readily acknowledge,” Gray said at the news conference.

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Mike DeBonis · November 13, 2013