D.C. OFFICIALS IN 2009 reported that the HIV rate in the nation’s capital was higher than that of West Africa. “On par with Uganda and some parts of Kenya” was the grim assessment of the director of the city’s HIV/AIDS Administration. Just how far the city has come in fighting the disease since that alarm was sounded eight years ago was reflected in a new report chronicling the ninth consecutive year in which the number of new HIV cases has decreased.
The Annual Epidemiology & Surveillance Report from D.C. health officials showed the number of newly diagnosed HIV cases decreasing to 347 in 2016, a decline of 52 percent from 720 cases in 2011 and 73 percent from 1,333 cases in 2007. The result is that 12,964 residents of D.C. are living with HIV; that is 1.9 percent of the population and a dramatic improvement over the 3 percent of the population that was reported for 2008.
The number of annual HIV infections has been on a nationwide decline as the result of new, high-impact approaches to prevention, and nowhere has the success been as evident as in the District. Among the tools used by the city over the past decade: increased testing and awareness campaigns, condom distributions, increased use of preventive medication to halt the spread of the disease, and a needle exchange program. That there were just seven cases in 2016 attributable to injection drug use underscores the program’s effectiveness and should serve as a rebuke to Congress, which blocked the District’s use of local tax dollars for needle exchanges. In 2007, before the scale-up of the program, there were 149 cases attributable to injection drug use.
There is no question, as Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) stressed in unveiling the health department report, that more needs to be done. The District still has one of the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence rates in the country. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an American has a 1-in-99 chance of being diagnosed with HIV at some point in his or her life, but in the District the odds are 1 in 13. Most at risk are black men who have sex with men.
The Bowser administration last year partnered with city nonprofits to develop even more ambitious strategies. That and the considerable progress that has been made to date are encouraging signs that the city is serious when it says it aims to end the HIV epidemic by 2020.
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