Mayor Vincent Gray stressed during the AIDS Memorial Quilt’s opening ceremony on the National Mall on Sunday that D.C. continues to make progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS.
“We’ve come a long way,” he said. “We have come a mighty distance in being able to tackle the challenges associated with the infection and associated with AIDS.”
Roughly 20,000 D.C. residents have been diagnosed with HIV—and more than 10,000 Washingtonians have died from AIDS—since the city’s first known case in 1983. The Department of Health’s latest epidemiological report indicates that 2.7 percent of D.C. residents were living with the virus at the end of 2010. New HIV diagnoses dropped 36 percent among white D.C. residents and 24 percent among black Washingtonians between 2006 and 2010.
Gray noted that the city has distributed more than five million male and female condoms in 2011. He also credited Washington’s needle exchange program for a 72 percent drop in HIV rates among intravenous drug users between 2007 and 2010. The mayor further pointed out that no baby has been born with HIV in D.C. since 2009.
“That’s wonderful progress, but we also know we have a long ways to go,” said Gray. “The struggle is bigger than this great city. Of course today it is a global epidemic and of course it is an issue of social justice and an issue of equality. As I look out on the faces before me today, I hope all of us feel the urgency of the global struggle. As you all cast your eyes upon this beautiful quilt, I hope that it will be a reminder — it will be an effort once again to renew our commitment to fight the decades of prejudice and raise awareness and lead our community — especially this week during the international conference to once and for all end this epidemic.”
The mayor spoke hours before he is scheduled to join Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, California Congresswoman Barbara Lee and others at the opening of the International AIDS Conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
The NAMES Project is slated to unfold more than 35,000 panels on the Mall through Wednesday. Portions of the quilt will remain on display in the Wilson Building and more than 50 other locations throughout the D.C. metropolitan area throughout the conference.
DOH interim director Dr. Saul Levin; Dr. Gregory Pappas, director of the agency’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Disease and Tuberculosis Administration; former Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, Frank Oldham, president of the National Association of People With AIDS and Lee were among those who joined Gray on the Mall. NAPWA also honored him and Whitman Walker Health for his work to combat the epidemic in the nation’s capital.
Gray also read the names of friends who succumbed to the virus: HIV/AIDS activist Melvin Boozer, with whom he went to high school, San Francisco physician Harvey Thompson and former Redskins receiver Jerry Smith.
“Let us remember them today,” said Gray. “Let us use this week to renew our resolve to once and for all eliminate the infection and to eliminate this dreaded disease from our society so we can move on and make sure everybody has the opportunity to lead the good life.”