June 27, 2012 | by Michael K. Lavers
City officials launch HIV testing campaign for D.C. employees

AIDS, gay news, Washington Blade

City officials launch HIV testing campaign for DC employees. (File image)

D.C. officials on Wednesday unveiled a new initiative designed to encourage HIV testing among the city’s more than 30,000 municipal employees.

Mayor Vincent Gray has authorized two hours of administrative leave for D.C. government employees to attend an HIV awareness workshop and get tested at either their doctor’s office or at one of the city’s publicly-funded clinics as part of the “Ask for the Test” campaign. The Department of Health will distribute workshop materials to the Department of Human Resources and other city agencies.

“Today our city is leading the way in HIV prevention through an innovative approach in the fight against HIV and AIDS in the District of Columbia,” said City Administrator Allen Lew, speaking on behalf of Gray who remains on a trade mission in China. “We have over 30,000 people working for the District of Columbia government who are serious about reducing our city’s high rates of STIs and HIV.”

Doctor Mohammad Akhter, director of the Department of Health, pointed out that all of the city’s municipal unions have backed this initiative. “We are so fortunate that we are working together to protect the health of our employees and to better serve the need of our residents,” he said.

DCHR Deputy General Counsel Gregory Evans; Office of Labor Relations and Collective Bargaining Director Natasha Campbell; Robert Mayfield, president of American Federation of Government Employees Local 2978; Geo Johnson, executive director of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 20 and Toni White-Richardson, president of AFSCME Local 1808, also spoke during the announcement inside the Old Council Chambers at Judiciary Square.

“I represent one of the fastest growing populations that’s becoming HIV and AIDS infected — that’s African American women who are 40-plus, plus, plus years of age who have a tendency to look at it as that’s everybody else,” said White-Richardson. “I’m here to say not only my union folks, but to all of my fellow D.C. employees we have to get tested. We need to be at the front of the line because we need to protect our health, but we need to protect the health of those that we love.”

The announcement, which coincided with National HIV Testing Day, came a week after DOH released its annual epidemiological report that noted 2.7 percent of Washingtonians were living with HIV at the end of 2010. It also comes less than a month before D.C. will host the International AIDS Conference.

Doctor Gregory Pappas, director of DOH’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Disease and Tuberculosis Administration, noted that up to 5,000 people with HIV in D.C. are unaware of their status.

“By being tested, you protect your health, you’re able to preserve your health because we’ve got medications that preserve your health,” he said. “You also preserve the health of your friends, your loved ones and your community because by being on medication and knowing your status, you’re less likely to spread the disease.”

The city recommends that Washingtonians get tested at least once a year – and men who have sex with men have an HIV test every six months.

Transgender Health Empowerment provided on-site testing during and after the announcement, while Metro Teen AIDS’ mobile testing van remained parked outside.

“I’m excited to see that it’s kicking off,” said Debbie McMillan of Transgender Health Empowerment immediately after officials unveiled the testing campaign. “It’s much needed here in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. Educating the community and making the community aware that HIV is very prevalent in our community is a wonderful thing.”

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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