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Thousands expected at annual D.C. AIDS Walk

D.C. Cowboys will perform for the last time



AIDS Walk 25

D.C.’s AIDS Walk, organized by Whitman-Walker Health, turned 25 in 2011. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

Up to 10,000 people are expected to take part in the 26th annual AIDS Walk Washington in D.C. on Oct. 27.

The event will kick off at Freedom Plaza at 9:15 a.m. after a series of speakers and performers take the stage—including the D.C. Cowboys’ last performance. Whitman-Walker Health, which produces and benefits from the AIDS Walk, will also honor George Kerr, executive director of Westminster START, and GEICO during the event.

NBC 4 anchors Aaron Gilchrist and Eun Yang will emcee the AIDS Walk.

“This is one of the most pressing issues for this city, and the black community in particular,” Gilchrist told the Washington Blade. “I’m proud that NBC4 has been involved with the walk for so many years. And I’m glad that I can show some support for the cause in some small way this year.”

“Every hour 30 children die as a result of AIDS,” added Yang. “We are making progress here in the District. No children have been born with HIV in DC since 2009. But we need to do more.  That’s why I’m so proud that NBC4 has partnered with AIDS Walk for so many years to raise awareness and continue to work to improve the lives of people living with HIV and 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 reported its first known case in 1983. The D.C. Department of Health’s latest epidemiological report indicates 2.7 percent of city residents were living with the virus at the end of 2010. New HIV diagnoses dropped 36 percent among white Washingtonians and 24 percent among D.C. residents between 2006 and 2010.

The epidemic continues to disproportionately impact the city’s black and gay residents but Mayor Vincent Gray and his administration continue to cite progress in the fight against the virus. The city distributed more than five million male and female condoms last year. Gray has also credited Washington’s needle exchange program for a 72 percent drop in HIV rates among intravenous drug users between 2007 and 2010.

Don Blanchon, executive director of Whitman-Walker Health, told the Blade that this year’s AIDS Walk is different from those of previous years because of the ongoing impact of the International AIDS Conference that took place in D.C. in July.

“What’s different from past years is this year’s really about hope,” he said. “The hope really comes from all of the work, the solidarity, the support that came out of the International AIDS Conference that was held here in July. And the fact that we have so many more tools to prevent new infections, to keep people in care, to keep their viral loads suppressed and afford them an opportunity to live healthy lives.”

Blanchon also looked beyond AIDS 2012 to discuss how his organization and other HIV/AIDS service providers can continue to work toward the goal of what he described as an AIDS-free generation.

“We have enough tools,” he said. “We have prevention strategies that are targeted for at-risk groups. We have massive condom distribution. We have a huge HIV testing campaign across the city. We have health centers that specialize in this work and that can keep people healthy. We have all of the elements we need and it’s really can we bring that together and sustain that over time. And so that hope is really not just something I’m pulling from a conference or what have you. The hope is we actually have the tools to be able to get to zero infections.”

Blanchon added the decision to select Miles and Milaya Daniels, who are 20-months and 10-weeks-old respectively, as this year’s grand marshals also sends a message.

“What we though was most powerful this year in the community was rallying the energy and the humanity that came from the International AIDS Conference. And that hope and energy and the ability to go back to wherever you call home and redouble your efforts to fight against the best new infection, that’s where it was,” he said. “If we want to really commit to this idea of an AIDS-free generation than the ones who are now in the middle of this work at the community level, we’ve got to put a face on who these people are in that AIDS-free generation. We really love the idea of these two great kids.”

A full schedule of events and other information about the AIDS Walk can be found at



Office of National AIDS Policy Director Phillips: Congress must increase funding

‘Without congressional funding we can’t get there’



The White House in 2011 (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Harold Phillips, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy (ONAP), said Monday that Congress must increase funding to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic, including for programs designed around the lives and needs of Americans who are living with the disease.

“We have the support of the Biden-Harris administration, and we have the support at HHS, but without congressional funding we can’t get there,” said Phillips, who delivered his remarks during the AIDS United annual AIDSWatch conference in Washington, D.C.

Phillips echoed remarks by other speakers in calling for Congress to increase appropriations funding for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program, but he also emphasized the importance of “making space for people living with HIV in other aspects of the budget.”

Consistent with the Biden-Harris administration’s focus on employing a whole-of-government approach, Phillips said stakeholders must understand that while “HIV is, yes, a public health threat,” the disease is also “the result of systemic and structural racism,” an intersectional problem requiring more than narrowly focused biomedical or public health responses.

Therefore, he said, these conversations about matters like HIV’s impact on Black lives, or considerations for aging folks who are living with the disease, must be held at places like the White House Gender Policy Council, the National Economic Council, and the U.S. Department of Labor.

“When we talk about ending HIV as a public health threat,” Phillips said, “we also want to end HIV such that it’s not the defining characteristic for people living with HIV and that they can have access to housing, access to employment, good mental health and substance abuse treatment.”

Former ONAP Director Sandra Thurman with ONAP Director Harold Phillips (Screen shot/YouTube)

Under Phillips’s leadership, data on these considerations for those living with HIV/AIDS will be measured for the first time with ONAP’s rollout of new quality of life indicators in the National HIV/AIDS Strategy Federal Implementation Plan.

“There’s an indicator in there that’s self-reported quality of life,” Phillips said, which asks respondents to consider, “how do I feel?” This is important, he added, because people living with HIV may have positive lab results but still feel poorly.

Phillips advised those AIDSWatch participants who are slated to meet with members of Congress and their staffs after hosting a rally on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol Tuesday morning to “build a common bond” with lawmakers by emphasizing the human impact of the appropriations funding for which they are advocating.

An AIDS United spokesperson told the Washington Blade by email Monday that 187 congressional meetings have been scheduled for Tuesday.

Phillips also noted that while “conversations need to happen in Washington, there’s also conversations that need to happen on the state and local level,” where “we’re finding a level of hate and stigma and discrimination that’s on course to try to either stop our progress or take us backwards.”

Speaking before Phillips, Equality Federation Public Health Policy Strategist Mike Webb stressed the importance of policies under consideration by state and local lawmakers. “Our access to PrEP shouldn’t be based on a patchwork of laws by the states,” they said, and HIV-related legislative proposals in many cases would “add criminalizing aspects.”

Laws already on the books that “criminalize the transmission of, or perceived exposure to, HIV and other infectious diseases,” the Movement Advancement Project writes, “create a strong disincentive for being tested for HIV, and result in adverse public health outcomes.”

Phillips and the Biden administration have made modernizing or repealing those laws a top priority.

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Biden budget earmarks funds for HIV along with new programs for PrEP, hepatitis C

Budget seen as preview of Biden’s reelection campaign



The White House in 2011 (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The $6.8 trillion budget unveiled by President Joe Biden on Thursday includes increased investment in existing programs to fight HIV/AIDS, along with new initiatives to expand access to HIV prevention medications and eliminate hepatitis C.

U.S. House Republicans are expected to kill the proposal, which is nevertheless seen as a possible blueprint for the major themes to come in Biden’s expected reelection campaign.

Major focus areas of the plan include deficit reduction, increased taxes for the wealthy, and increased spending on the military and other endeavors to compete with China.

The HIV + Hepatitis Policy Institute praised the budget in a press release Thursday, writing that it will “significantly increase the federal resources necessary to end both HIV and hepatitis C.”

The group’s president, Carl Schmid, said Biden “recognizes the historic role the federal government must play, and the investments needed to end infectious diseases.”

First, the plan would bolster funding for the Trump-era Ending the HIV Epidemic in the United States initiative by $313 million, bringing the total to $850 million. Second, it would debut a “ten-year $9.7 billion nationwide PrEP delivery program” and a “historic initiative to eliminate hepatitis C.”

PrEP, or preexposure prophylaxis, is a medication regimen that reduces the risk of contracting HIV. According to the HIV + Hepatitis Policy Institute, only 30 percent of patients who could benefit from the drug are taking it.

The new hepatitis C program “seeks to provide outreach, testing, and curative medications to the estimated 2.4 million people living with hepatitis C, many of whom are unaware of their infection.”

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Gov. Newsom: Calif. will not do business with Walgreens after decision to not distribute abortion pill

20 Republican state attorneys general threatened to sue Walgreens for offering mifepristone



Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

Gov. Gavin Newsom (D-Calif.) announced on Monday that California will not do business with Walgreens following the company’s announcement of its decision on Friday to not distribute the abortion pill mifepristone in 20 states.

The move comes amid pressure from conservative lawmakers and threats of legal action against Walgreens and CVS from 20 Republican state attorneys general, who claimed in a Feb. 1 press release that selling mifepristone is “unsafe and illegal.”

Mifepristone is still legal in several of the states where Walgreens has decided to stop providing it in response to the specter of lawsuits from state attorneys general: Alaska, Iowa, Kansas and Montana.

Newsom’s office told NPR that California will review “all relationships between Walgreens and the state,” but declined to provide more specifics.

“California won’t be doing business with @walgreens – or any company that cowers to the extremists and puts women’s lives at risk,” Newsom wrote in the tweet. “We’re done.”

“Elected officials targeting pharmacies and their ability to provide women with access to safe, effective, and FDA-approved medication is dangerous and just unacceptable,” White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said during a briefing on March 3.

“The administration will continue to stand by the FDA’s expert judgment in approving and regulating medications. And in the face of barriers to access and concerns about safety of patients, healthcare providers, and pharmacists, we will continue to support access to this critical medication within the limits of the law,” Jean-Pierre said.

Meanwhile, Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas is expected to soon rule on a case challenging the safety of mifepristone that advocates for reproductive justice fear could lead to a nationwide injunction prohibiting the sale and distribution of the abortion drug.

Medical experts have slammed the Texas plaintiffs’ lawsuit, arguing that mifepristone’s safety and efficacy have been well demonstrated for years. Kacsmaryk, who was appointed by former President Donald Trump, is nevertheless expected to rule in their favor.

“The plaintiffs who have no legitimate standing have hand-picked him to hear this case that has no merit because they know what they’re getting with Judge Kacsmaryk,” Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said last month.

Jean-Pierre addressed the case during a press briefing on March 1: “The decision would be unprecedented, as you know, and devastating to women’s health.  And we may find ourselves in uncharted territory,” she said.

“And so, we’re closely — closely working with the Justice Department and DHS — HHS on this, on how to be prepared for any range of outcome or potential outcomes,” Jean-Pierre added.

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