Channing Wickham is executive director of the Washington AIDS Partnership. Walter Smith is executive director of DC Appleseed.
Last month, The Post published an inspiring compilation of stories about people living with HIV. Among them was Chris Kimmenez, a man who has been HIV-positive since 1989 and who has recently learned that because of his sustained medical treatment there is no longer a risk that he will transmit the virus to his wife. This story is at the heart of an effort that we have been involved with for several years and that reached a new landmark in the District this past World AIDS Day.
Specifically, a year ago, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D), the D.C. Department of Health, the Washington AIDS Partnership and DC Appleseed jointly released a plan to end HIV/AIDS in the District. The plan is based on the idea of multiplying stories such as Chris Kimmenez's many thousands of times over. The initiative is called the 90/90/90/50 Plan and is named for its four goals:
· 90 percent of District residents with HIV will know their HIV status;
· 90 percent of those who test positive will be in sustained medical treatment;
· 90 percent of those in treatment will have an undetectable HIV viral load, meaning that they have suppressed the virus to such an extent that not only will their own health improve, but they (like Kimmenez and others in the article) also will not transmit the virus to others;
· The result will be that by 2020 the number of new HIV infections will be reduced by 50 percent.
The ultimate result of meeting and sustaining these goals will be, as Anthony Fauci of the National Institutes of Health has said, that HIV will "burn itself out."
On World AIDS Day this year, Dec. 1, we issued a progress report on implementation of the 90/90/90/50 Plan. And there is good news in the report. On Goal 1, the District is at 86 percent of HIV-positive people knowing their status; on Goal 2, 76 percent of people who know they are positive are in treatment; on Goal 3, 82 percent of people in treatment are undetectable; and on Goal 4, the District has so far seen a 33 percent reduction in new HIV cases.
But there are still too many new HIV cases in the city: 347 in 2016. The District government and its community partners are to be commended for the ways they are working to bring that number down to zero. In particular, we applaud the number and quality of campaigns that have been conducted to reach various groups to raise awareness about prevention, testing and treatment; the investments the city has made in proven prevention tools such as needle exchange, condoms and PrEP, a daily medication taken to greatly reduce the chance of becoming infected; and the collection of data that allow the District to measure progress and better target those most at risk.
On the other hand, as our recent progress report pointed out, much more must be done to meet the four goals and eventually end the HIV epidemic. This includes consistent, quality HIV education in all local schools, especially given that the greatest increase in new infections is occurring in young people; increased access to affordable housing for people living with HIV, particularly as lack of housing can cause people to fall out of treatment; and greater efforts to engage people most at risk of HIV — by fighting stigma, improving cultural competence in medical settings and supporting community-based, peer-led programs.
We celebrate the breakthroughs the District is making on this epidemic, and we urge it to do more to build on the progress made so far. The 90/90/90/50 Plan will not be achieved without sustained commitment, but achieving it is in the interest of every District resident.