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Grim Reality

DC's fight against HIV/AIDS is only just beginning.

The District of Columbia is at a critical point in dealing with its HIV/AIDS epidemic. While one grim reality is already set in stone, it is time to pour more focus on the younger generation, with more education in the classroom and more public awareness campaigns. We’ll need a continuous focus and have to hope that these efforts pay off for generations of the future. 

The reality is, the District will be dealing with a high HIV/AIDS infection rate for years and years to come. It’s an issue city residents and government officials will have to accept, and continue to focus on heavily in order to see any changes, hopefully at some point this century. 

It’s an ironic situation, due in part to the focus on preventing deaths. We all want to prevent deaths, and these days, the drugs that are made available allow patients to live long and often active lives. Some local government officials see that as a win-win. 

With huge numbers of the city’s population (more than 3 out of every 100 residents) already suffering from infections, and with the optimistic outlook they’ll have access to medication, the likely scenario is that the infection numbers aren’t going to change significantly for years to come. Steady as she goes, say the government officials responsible for containing the disease. 

Council member David Catania, who chairs the Health Committee, believes the city is making steady progress despite the grim numbers. He believes the city’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD, and TB Administration is doing impressive work, and when it comes to the number of people dying from the disease, they’re “making headway,” at least according to Catania’s chief spokesperson. The situation is still bad, however.

Catania’s people also took issue with a recent “Washington Post” headline on how HIV/AIDS was “the number one health concern” among city residents. The way his staff sees it, it’s because of their public awareness efforts that people are concerned. 

In fact, they WANT people to be concerned. This isn’t the 1980s, though, and that sense of urgency has been lost. We need to take it a step further. 

DC residents need to be deathly afraid of the possibility of contracting HIV/AIDS. Thank goodness for medical advancements and treatment, but programs like free condom distribution and needle exchanges are stop gap measures. They only do so much.

It’s time to bring the urgency back. Educating the public, particularly the very young, is where more of the focus should be placed.

Talking to Catania’s staff, they believe education efforts are already starting to pay off. They say the way health and sex education is taught in city classrooms has been completely restructured. They say the curriculum is more comprehensive than ever. They point to new public awareness campaigns by the DC Department of Health, as well as groups like Metro Teen Aids, all doing good work to get the message out. They point to all of these things, but all they can really do is wait and watch for trends.

How does one solve such an epidemic, at this stage, when it’s so late in the game, when so much damage has already been done?  The only thing you can do is pour all the education you can into the younger generations, and wait.  The city is going to be dealing with high infection rates for generations to come. In fact, it may get worse before it gets better with the possibility of baby boomers with HIV/AIDS placing a high burden on services and medication. 

So at what point does it become no longer acceptable to have one of the largest HIV/AIDS infection rates in the world? How long will it take to turn the numbers around? Only time will tell. In the meantime, you educate, and educate some more, you wait, you hope, and you get tested. 

Take advantage of National HIV Testing Day activities, going on now. There are multiple testing sites in the District of Columbia. Find a site near you and get tested for free.

tony June 26, 2011 at 04:17 PM
never thought about the impact baby boomers with AIDS could have. that's a huge segment of the population. definitely worth a followup.
William Stanton July 02, 2011 at 01:07 PM
Great article, but I would just like to see a different tone. One not of fear but of acceptance. "DC residence's should be deathly afraid...", in health and in our culture of "fear mongering" being deathly afraid might not be the best way for people to think about things. HIV is a disease of culture, and ecology. This article though brief should follow it's own advice and dig deeper into "why" the prev/incidence" is so high. Or why do places like Brazil have different rates than DC... I challenge the author of this article to actually do some journalistic work, and find out why instead of being another person screaming from their window at night.

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