D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty joined health officials Tuesday to announce a new D.C. and National Institutes of Health research and treatment initiative aimed at decreasing the city’s high rate of HIV infections.
The $26.4 million federally funded initiative, called the D.C. Partnership for HIV/AIDS Progress, includes among four components a study that targets black men who have sex with men to determine the best ways to curtail HIV infections among the group, which experts say is at high risk for HIV infection in the District.
“Tragically, our nation’s capital has one of the highest rates of HIV/AIDS, where about 3 percent of adults and adolescents are infected with the virus,” said NIH’s Dr. Anthony Fauci at the initiative’s unveiling.
“By collaborating with Mayor Fenty’s administration to establish the new D.C. Partnership for HIV/AIDS Progress, NIH will seek to answer critical HIV research questions that could positively affect the District’s HIV/AIDS problem and serve as a model for programs in other U.S. cities as well,” Fauci said.
Fenty said the initiative comes two years after his administration set in motion sweeping changes in the city’s AIDS office and Department of Health, which he said has laid the groundwork for making D.C. a national leader in the fight against AIDS.
“This comprehensive collaboration will generate fresh ideas, new services and technical knowledge to enable the city and NIH to prevent new infections and improve health care services for all residents living with HIV/AIDS,” he said.
Also speaking at the news conference, held at a private community clinic in Anacostia, were D.C. City Council member David Catania (I-At Large), who chairs the Council’s Committee on Health; Dr. Pierre Vigilance, director of the D.C. Department of Health; and Dr. Shannon Hader, senior deputy director of the city’s health department in charge of the recently renamed D.C. HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD & Tuberculosis Administration.
Catania said he was hopeful that the benefits from the joint D.C.-NIH initiative combined with the “steady progress” the city is making on the HIV/AIDS front would lead to improved numbers in the infection rate before the city hosts the World AIDS Conference in 2012.
“This is a day we’ve waited for for a long time,” he said.
Don Blanchon, executive director of the Whitman-Walker Clinic, said the Clinic would play a role in the joint D.C.-HIH initiative.
“This new partnership has the potential to make a real difference in people’s lives, especially in how we combat HIV/AIDS in D.C.,” Blanchon said. “We are proud to be a part of this effort.”
An NIH statement released at Tuesday’s news conference says the study of black men who have sex with men, is already underway in D.C. and other cities, and is being conducted by the NIH’s National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases. Fauci heads that division.
The NIH statement notes that blacks represent 76 percent of the District’s HIV/AIDS cases. Recent D.C. studies have shown that while heterosexuals make up the highest percentage of newly HIV-infected people in the city, men who have sex with men make up the highest number of overall HIV cases in the District.
According to the statement, the research into black men who have sex with men includes gathering “sexual and social networking information from black men who have sex with men.”
The statement said as part of the effort, “participants receive HIV risk-reduction counseling and condoms; testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections; screenings for substance use, mental health issues, partner and/or homophobic violence; and a peer system to help them navigate the health care system and utilize HIV services.”
It says this two-year study will “assess the impact of these services on HIV incidence.” The study will enlist 2,600 men in six U.S. cities, including about 400 in D.C.
Other components of the joint D.C.-NIH initiative include tracking and measuring the success of HIV care; enhancing care for other HIV-related medical issues, such diabetes, Hepatitis, and cardiovascular disease; and a “test and treat” pilot program.
Fauci said the “test and treat” program is part of an international experiment among AIDS researchers and physicians. He noted that its aim is to determine whether an aggressive medical treatment regimen that drastically reduces the HIV viral load among patients could be the most effective means of preventing the spread of the virus.
He noted that some researchers with the United Nation’s World Health Organization believe the rate of infection in a given geographical area could be reduced to a greater degree under a “test and treat” program than through more traditional prevention programs such as condom distribution and HIV prevention education.
According to WHO researchers, a lower viral load reduces the chance of infection, even in instances where people engaged in unprotected sex.