June 22, 2012 | by Michael K. Lavers
Report: D.C. HIV rates continue to drop
Gay News, Washingon Blade, AIDS

(Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

HIV rates in D.C. continue to drop, according to the Department of Public Health’s annual epidemiology report it released on Wednesday.

14,465 people or 2.7 percent of D.C. residents were living with HIV at the end of 2010, compared with 3.2 percent of Washingtonians who had the virus at the end of 2008. The report further noted that African Americans remain disproportionately impacted by the epidemic with 4.3 percent of black D.C. residents living with HIV — 6.3 percent of black D.C. men had the virus, compared with 2.4 percent of whites and three percent of Latinos. DOH further noted that black women accounted for 92.4 percent of D.C. women with HIV.

The report further indicates that the number of new AIDS cases in D.C. decreased 32 percent from 2006 to 2010, and the number of diagnoses among men who have sex with men fell by 25 percent over the same period. DOH noted that roughly 89 percent of the 4,879 people who tested positive for the virus between 2005 and 2009 were connected to HIV-specific care by the end of 2010. HIV-related deaths in D.C. also fell by almost 50 percent from 2006 to 2010.

In spite of this progress, the city’s HIV rate remains more than two times higher than the World Health Organization’s definition of a generalized epidemic.

The report also noted that same-sex and heterosexual sexual contact are the two leading modes of HIV transmission. Slightly more than 77 percent of white D.C. residents and 55.5 percent of Latino Washingtonians who tested positive between 2006 and 2010 contracted the virus through same-sex sexual contact. Only 30.7 percent of black D.C. residents who tested positive for HIV during this period contracted it through MSM, compared to 38.7 who contracted it through heterosexual sexual contact.

New HIV cases in D.C. decreased 24 percent among black Washingtonians between 2006 and 2010. Rates of new diagnoses among white D.C. residents dropped 36 percent over the same period.

“Addressing the critical HIV epidemic in the District of Columbia has been a top priority for my administration,” said Mayor Vincent Gray. “Through uniting government agencies with private-sector health experts and community organizations – via vehicles like the Mayor’s Commission on HIV/AIDS – we are creating solutions to curb the HIV infection rate in our city.”

The report also noted that D.C. has tripled the number of publicly supported HIV tests from 2007 and distributed more than five million male and female condoms in 2011. The city also disposed of more than 340,000 syringes through its needle exchange program last year, which is an increase of 3,000 from 2010. DOH further noted that the number of new HIV cases from intravenous drug use decreased 72 percent from 2007 to 2010.

“The strength of the District’s response is a direct result of the quality and quantity of data we now regularly collect,” said D.C. Councilman David Catania (D-At Large) in response to the report. “Our policy and program decisions are driven by our data and, as a result, are reaching and benefiting at-risk and infected individuals. People are making better, safer decisions about their health because we have focused on expanding knowledge about the disease in order to combat its spread. The report makes clear that we still have a tremendous amount of work to do, but with our data we can continue to effectively face the challenges of this deadly disease.”

HIV/AIDS service organizations also welcomed the latest report, but stressed that the virus remains a serious problem in D.C.

“This progress is most welcome, but now is not the time take a summer vacation in the fight against HIV,” said Don Blanchon, executive director of Whitman Walker Health. “While it will take time to bring this epidemic under control, we are very pleased to see that the city has made tremendous progress over the last few years.”

Ron Simmons, president of Us Helping Us, agreed.

“In a lot of areas we improved,” he said, noting more than 100,000 people in D.C. are tested every year and 90 percent of Washingtonians have access to health care. He also cited HIV rates among poor heterosexual black women that increased from 6.1 percent in 2008 to 12.1 percent in 2010. “There’s definitely a lot more work to do.”

Michael K. Lavers has been a staff writer for the Washington Blade since May 2012. The passage of Maryland's same-sex marriage law, the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the burgeoning LGBT rights movement in Latin America and the consecration of gay New Hampshire Bishop V. Gene Robinson are among the many stories he has covered since his career began in 2002. Follow Michael

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