$700,000 Awarded To Combat AIDS

By Nikita Stewart
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, March 10, 2007

D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray noticed a disparity two years ago when he looked over a list of 121 nonprofit groups and agencies that were getting millions of dollars to fight HIV in the District.

"There was not one grant, not one dollar awarded to an organization indigenous to Ward 7," he said.

Gray (D), who was sworn in as council chairman in January, was the newly elected Ward 7 council member at the time. He set out to find a way to get city funds to AIDS-prevention groups based in Ward 7 or targeting the ward. The Ward 7 Collaborative, a partnership of eight groups and the Department of Health, was created to combat HIV and AIDS in the community.

Yesterday, the department announced $700,000 in HIV/AIDS grants to assist with prevention, testing and treatment. Groups serving residents east of the Anacostia River in wards 7 and 8 will receive $50,000 each.

Using the Ward 7 Collaborative as a model, the department is tapping citywide groups to provide similar services to special populations, including the homeless, the hearing-impaired, the transgender population and HIV-positive women returning from prison. Those groups will receive $20,000 grants.

An additional $300,000 will be used by the city to implement training and help with writing grants.

The city has the highest AIDS rate in the country, at 179 cases per 100,000 people. The city had 9,110 residents living with AIDS last year, according to the Department of Health. An estimated 18,000 to 25,000 people have HIV.

Gray said local nonprofits, which are working with youths, ex-convicts or the underprivileged, can better connect to the residents who have or are at risk of contracting the virus.

"What we are doing is talking about putting the money in the hands of organizations . . . who know how to do outreach," said Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D). "We never thought we could and know that we can't do this alone."

The city, however, will provide assistance. Groups serving "special populations," such as the hearing impaired, will get six months of training on how to improve services. Organizations also will learn how to write grants to get federal and private dollars.

Although other areas of the city have more people living with HIV/AIDS than wards 7 and 8, the eastern communities have the highest rate of new HIV cases, according to the Health Department.

The new cases drove the Ward 7 Collaborative's efforts.

Jatrice Martel Gaiter, president of Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington, said the collaborative has filled a gap for the city by using groups that "have been in the community for decades" to track the virus and disease. "This is a real grass-roots organization," she said. "We have a health crisis in this community, and it means things have to change."

The groups provide many residents with access to phones, the Internet and transportation, Gaiter said.

Effi Barry, a former D.C. first lady who now works in the HIV/AIDS administration on special projects, said she was assigned to coordinate the Ward 7 initiative.

"These groups were competing for the same pot of money, but these organizations came together and they bonded," she said.

© 2007 The Washington Post Company