More than a dozen HIV/AIDS activists on Monday heckled Mayor Vincent Gray as he spoke at the International AIDS Conference’s Global Village.
Housing Works members chanted “numbers don’t lie, politicians do” and other slogans as he took the stage inside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. They repeatedly accused Gray of not doing enough to combat the city’s HIV/AIDS epidemic as he tried to speak.
“We have the leadership of our health department here and we will be happy to talk with you all about and share with you the plan we have,” said Gray, who specifically pointed out Dr. Gregory Pappas of the Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Disease and Tuberculosis Administration to the protesters. “We will be happy to discuss that with you. We’ll share documents with you.”
The mayor noted that no baby has been born with HIV in D.C. since 2009. Gray also referenced the campaign that city officials unveiled last month that encourages testing among D.C.’s 30,000 employees — he gets tested annually and publicly announces the results.
“I am personally committed finding a cure to this disease,” said Gray. “We know that treatment is prevention.”
The DOH’s latest epidemiological report indicates that 2.7 percent of D.C. residents were living with HIV at the end of 2010. New diagnoses dropped 36 percent among white Washingtonians and 24 percent among the city’s black residents between 2006 and 2010.
Gray reiterated during his speech at the AIDS Memorial Quilt’s opening ceremony on the National Mall on Sunday that the city has distributed more than five million male and female condoms in 2011. He has also credited D.C.’s needle exchange program for the 72 percent drop in HIV rates among intravenous drug users between 2007 and 2010.
“Housing was not on that list,” said Keith Holder of Southeast Washington, who has been HIV-positive since 1985. He told the Blade that he has been on a waiting list for housing for those with the virus since 2001. “Without housing, you’re not going to survive.”
Pappas noted that most of the 1,000 people with HIV who have requested housing support from the city currently live with family and friends. Gray has established an interagency task force to address the issue, but Pappas acknowledged to the Blade that housing for Washingtonians with HIV remains a major problem.
“Most large American cities experience serious housing problems and D.C. is working with HUD (the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development) to seek funding,” he said.
In addition to housing for people with HIV, D.C. resident Larry Bryant questioned the city’s overall response to the epidemic. He acknowledged the city’s increased testing rates and improved data collection. Bryant stressed, however, that he feels the Gray administration has not done enough to tackle socio-economic and other underlying issues that further contribute to the epidemic’s impact among disproportionately affected communities.
“We’re not looking at prevention in a more comprehensive way,” said Bryant, who has lived with HIV for more than 20 years. “We’re not looking at socio-economic factors that contribute to the epidemic and the most recent surveillance numbers prove that fact both among women, poor women, people of color and heterosexual couples as well.”