July 1, 2015 at 6:00 am EDT | by Michael K. Lavers
Report shows new HIV cases continue to fall in D.C.
District of Columbia HIV, STD Hepatitis and TB report, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser delivered the annual District of Columbia HIV, STD, Hepatitis and TB report at Whitman-Walker Health’s Metro TeenAIDS facility in Southeast Washington on June 30, 2015. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The number of newly diagnosed HIV cases in the nation’s capital dropped for a sixth consecutive year, according to the latest surveillance report that D.C. officials released on Tuesday.

The report — which the D.C. Department of Health’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Disease and Tuberculosis Administration (HAHSTA) prepared — notes there were 553 new HIV diagnoses in the nation’s capital in 2013. That figure is a 40 percent decrease from the 916 new HIV diagnoses reported in 2009.

The report indicates there were 19 new HIV cases attributed to injection drug use in D.C. in 2013, compared to 149 in 2007. It also notes no babies were born with the virus in the nation’s capital in 2013.

“The District of Columbia continues to make progress in the fight against HIV,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser during a press conference at Whitman-Walker Health’s Metro TeenAIDS facility on Pennsylvania Avenue, S.E.. “We have some good news to share with you today.”

The report notes that black men who have sex with men accounted for 25 percent of new HIV diagnoses in the nation’s capital in 2013. It also indicates those between 20-29 were the age group with the highest number of new infections in the same year.

The report indicates that 16,423 D.C. residents — or 2.5 percent of the population of the nation’s capital — was living with HIV in 2013. Department of Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt during the press conference described the virus’ prevalence in D.C. as a “modern HIV epidemic” because rates exceed the World Health Organization’s one percent threshold for such a designation.

Nesbitt also noted D.C. is currently unable to place HIV/AIDS prevention ads on Metro buses and trains because of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s decision in late May to suspend “issue-oriented” ads through the end of the year. She said the Department of Health campaign falls under this regulation because it contains the word “respect.”

“They moved that temporarily,” said Bowser, referring to the WMATA regulation. “I hope that it in fact will be temporary because we put a lot of placements on public transportation. I believe it is efficacious because it hits a lot of people and it doesn’t cost that much.”

D.C. announces new partnership to reduce HIV rates

The Bowser administration on Tuesday also announced a new public-private partnership designed to further tackle the epidemic in D.C.

The 90-90-90-50 by 2020 Plan has four goals: 90 percent of people know their HIV status, 90 percent of people who are living with the virus are in care or receiving treatment, 90 percent of people with HIV have an undetectable viral load and the number of new diagnoses in D.C. will be reduced by 50 percent by 2020.

“Today we are announcing that in 2013 there were 553 new cases of HIV,” said Nesbitt. “So by 2020 we want to cut that number in half.”

Nesbitt described pre-exposure prophylaxis as a “scientifically proven intervention” to combat the epidemic in D.C.

“If we take the whole compliment of the 90-90-90-50 Plan and in combination with increasing the use of PrEP in the District for those people for whom PrEP would be appropriate, we can make significant strides,” she said.

HAHSTA Director Michael Kharfen, Whitman-Walker Health Executive Director Don Blanchon and D.C. Appleseed Center Executive Director Walter Smith were among the HIV/AIDS service providers and advocates who joined Bowser and Nesbitt at the press conference.

“We’re going to be careful…to talk to the people who are on the ground so we’ll know what needs to be done to get to where we say we need to go,” said Smith, referring to the 90-90-90-50 Plan. “We cannot afford to be at 553 new infections anymore. There are too many lives that are not being spent well, too much health is being lost in the city.”

Nesbitt made a similar plan in response to the Washington Blade’s question about how the initiative will specifically seek to reduce new HIV diagnoses among black men who have sex in men.

“We believe very much in targeting in terms of targeting resources, working with groups who have access to those populations and developing specific strategies that are going to help us reach the highest impacted groups and populations,” said Nesbitt.

District of Columbia HIV, STD Hepatitis and TB report, gay news, Washington Blade

D.C. Department of Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt presented the annual District of Columbia HIV, STD, Hepatitis and TB report alongside D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Whitman-Walker Health Executive Director Don Blanchon on June 30, 2015 at Whitman-Walker Health’s Metro TeenAIDS facility in Southeast D.C. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Michael K. Lavers is the international news editor of the Washington Blade. Follow Michael

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