Encouraging news in the District's HIV/AIDS epidemic

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

THE AIDS CRISIS in the District is so acute that you'd be forgiven for greeting the third report on the state of the epidemic with all the enthusiasm you'd have for an IRS audit. But there is some good news in the 2009 Epidemiology Update from the D.C. HIV/AIDS Administration. "For the first time," the report declares, "we can report that there is a decline in new AIDS cases in the District of Columbia."

The epidemic is far from abating. More than 3 percent of the population in the District was living with HIV/AIDS at the end of 2008. The United Nations defines an epidemic as "severe" when those infected exceed 1 percent of the population "of a specific geographic area." While the report released on March 17 noted that the number of those living with HIV/AIDS was up 9.2 percent over 2007, it also says this is due to "expanded HIV testing as well as more complete HIV reporting due to maturation of the names-based HIV reporting system." This expansion has led to a raft of other heartening statistics.

According to the HIV/AIDS Administration's latest survey, the number of new AIDS cases diagnosed fell 33.2 percent between 2004 and 2008. The number of people who test late, meaning those who are diagnosed with full-blown AIDS within a year of testing HIV-positive, decreased by 9.4 percent in that same period. Meanwhile, the number of those who go from testing positive to having AIDS within a year of their initial diagnosis dropped by 19.6 percent. The overarching goal of Shannon L. Hader, chief of the HIV/AIDS Administration, is to get people into treatment and do it early. On this score, there was a 36.1 percent increase in those seeking medical care within three months of testing HIV-positive. And this begets more positive news. The number of District residents succumbing to AIDS fell 27.7 percent between 2004 and 2007.

The menace of HIV/AIDS is not bound by socioeconomic barriers. Combating this scourge requires vigilance on the part of D.C. residents and health officials. As The Post's "Wasting Away" series made painfully clear, the District had been saddled with a dysfunctional agency that failed to use millions of dollars pumped into it to deliver services adequately, efficiently and wisely. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty's appointment of Dr. Hader in 2008 marked a significant and hopeful change -- not only for the operation of the agency, but also for the survival of those living with HIV/AIDS.

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