District Launches HIV-Testing Campaign

By Darryl Fears
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, August 29, 2009

Saying the city needs to "speak with a louder voice" about the District's HIV epidemic, Mayor Adrian M. Fenty on Friday launched a long-awaited marketing campaign to promote testing for the disease through advertising on television, radio, billboards and Metro trains and buses.

The District has an HIV/AIDS prevalence rate of 3 percent -- the highest of any major U.S. city. "We're encouraging all residents to ask the doctor for an HIV test when they go for a visit," Fenty (D) said at the Chartered Family Health Center, which provides care to residents east of the Anacostia River in Northeast Washington. "We didn't want to make the past mistake of focusing on one particular area. Everybody is at risk."

The campaign, "D.C. Takes On HIV," includes a new Web site, http://www.dctakesonhiv.com, which features a television ad, "Ask for the Test." The ad, which will air on the Comcast cable network and radio outlets such as WHUR (93.6 FM) and the Radio One network, and the Web site are part of the $225,000 first phase of the campaign, officials said.

The campaign is also the city's first joint effort with the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which announced in June that it would allow the city to tap the advertising and social expertise of its partners, including Pfizer, the National Basketball Association, Facebook, Nike, Nokia and others.

Over the coming months, Pfizer will direct its sales representatives to promote routine HIV testing when they visit the company's 200 client physicians in hospitals and clinics in the District, said John Newsome, a spokesman for the coalition.

The city has been strongly criticized for failing to launch an aggressive social marketing campaign to warn residents to protect themselves against HIV and AIDS. In fall 2008, a D.C. Appleseed Center for Law and Justice report sharply rebuked the city's AIDS awareness effort, saying that it lacked the urgency needed to address such a large epidemic.

In March, a day after the city's 2008 epidemiology update confirmed the 3 percent infection rate, an epidemic according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's definition, D.C. HIV/AIDS Administration http://doh.dc.gov/doh/cwp/view,a,1371,q,573205,dohNav_GID,1802,dohNav,{vbar}33200{vbar}34259{vbar}.asp so likely current .black gay black man looks at his partner and says, "Ask for the test because you need to know whether you're negative or positive. That's how we protect each other." A Latino man makes a similar statement in Spanish. A man standing beside his girlfriend says: "It's for her." She says: "It's for him." A minister says he asks for the test for his congregation.

The ad was designed to touch on all the challenges of stopping AIDS in the District except one, addicts using dirty needles. Gay black men lead the percentage of people who contract the disease. Latinos are the second most threatened minority group, and risky heterosexual sex threatens to expand infection to pandemic levels if it isn't checked, officials said.

"The situation we find ourselves in today is indicative of a failure," said D.C. Council member David A. Catania (I-At Large), addressing the poor past performance of the city's HIV/AIDS Administration and its revolving door of directors over the past decade.

"This government was unwilling to focus on this epidemic," Catania said. New policies have ushered in change, he said. "We are now in a position to address the epidemic. It doesn't mean that we're successfully addressing it."


© 2009 The Washington Post Company