D.C. Aims to Publicize City's HIV-AIDS Epidemic

By Petula Dvorak
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 24, 2008; 4:32 PM

The District will embark on a large-scale "social marketing" campaign to publicize the facts of its staggering HIV-AIDS epidemic and the plans to help curb it, D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D) said today.

"There have been some setbacks, some things we could've done better in the past 20 months or so," Fenty said in response to a local advocacy group's report issued today that highlighted the mayor's failure to wage a more public battle against the virus.

But he said there are plans for a "social marketing campaign to make people more aware" of the epidemic, which is believed to infect one in 20 people in the District.

The District government has improved its performance this year in battling the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but the mayor needs to strengthen the city's public awareness campaign to combat one of the nation's highest infection rates, said the report released today by the DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice.

"The District must take aggressive action to address the remaining obstacles to rolling back the epidemic," the report said . "We of course welcome Mayor Fenty's call for HIV/AIDS to be his top health priority, but sustained, highly visible government efforts to broadly raise awareness of the severity of the epidemic have been absent and reflect a lack of urgency."

That was something that Shannon L. Hader, head of the District's HIV/AIDS Administration, was working on.

"We do know that we have a modern epidemic in the District and we need a modern response," Hader said.

The city just signed a five-year contract with a marketing firm to help spread the word because to make progress, "we must reduce the ridiculous stigma" attached to the virus, she said.

In its report, the fourth since the advocacy group began tracking the District's HIV/AIDS rate in 2005, it portrays a government that is just beginning to grapple with the scope of the crisis.

It credits the city for making progress in basics such as needle exchange programs, expanded testing and education efforts in the schools.

The District is believed to have the highest rate of new reports of AIDS in the United States and it has one of the highest rates of people living with AIDS among major cities across the country, according to the D.C. Department of Health.

Almost 12,500 people in the District were known to have HIV or AIDS in 2006, the most recent year of statistics available. HIV was spread through heterosexual contact in 37 percent of the cases, compared with 25 percent of the cases attributed to men having sex with men -- the most common mode of transmission nationally.

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