June 22, 2011 | by Joey DiGuglielmo
AIDS report shows progress for D.C.

Washington Mayor Vince Gray’s office released an epidemiology report last week showing improved statistics on HIV and AIDS within the District.

According to the report:

• More than 75 percent of residents in 2009 entered treatment within three months of diagnosis, an increase from 58 percent in 2005.

• Average CD4 count at diagnosis was 361 in 2009, up from 211 in 2004 (a CD4 count of 200 or below signifies full-blown AIDS). That’s an improvement of 71 percent.

• The number of residents testing late declined by 10 percent.

• The number of AIDS-related deaths decreased by more than half from 326 in 2005 to 153 in 2009.

“Our newest update on the state of the HIV epidemic gives new inspiration to our efforts … to fight HIV/AIDS in the District of Columbia,” Gray wrote in a statement. “We are getting people diagnosed earlier and into care and treatment faster for their health, thereby reducing the chances that others will get infected.”

But how much of the report is political spin versus true progress? A gay doctor at Whitman-Walker Health says the numbers stand up.

“It’s still serious but improving,” says Whitman-Walker’s Dr. Raymond Martin. “Most of it has no spin at all. The fact was that years ago the average CD4 count for D.C. residents testing positive was 150. Below 200, you have AIDS. A healthy person without HIV is around 1,000. So through enhanced testing do you have people coming in now before they’re getting sick. For the past three years, it’s been about 361 on average. That’s a vast improvement you can’t fudge with.”

Martin said the findings were consistent with what he expected with one exception — new HIV cases in D.C. residents 50 and older. He said Whitman-Walker is finding “a fair amount of older clients” testing positive as it’s now the policy to test everyone.

Gay Council member David Catania praised the findings the day the study was released on June 15.

“The epidemic will not be eliminated overnight and unfortunately we will live with the failures of governments for years to come,” he said “[This] report shows that we have made tremendous progress in building the architecture of a response that will eventually enable us to turn the corner on HIV/AIDS.”

Martin says Center for Disease Control guidelines suggest sexually active gay men, who continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV, get tested twice a year or every three months if they have anonymous partners.

There were 755 new cases of HIV in Washington in 2009, the report said. That makes 16,721 D.C. residents living with HIV/AIDS, or 3.2 percent of residents.

Joey DiGuglielmo is the Features Editor for the Washington Blade.

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