Several candidates vying to replace outgoing Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake appeared Tuesday before a forum sponsored by the Greater Baltimore HIV Health Services Planning Council. The purpose of the annual meeting is to discuss Baltimore’s response to the White House’s national HIV/AIDS strategy.
Former Mayor Sheila Dixon, City Council member Nick Mosby, State Sen. Catherine Pugh, Conor Meek and Calvin Young addressed a standing-room-only crowd of nearly 100 in the community room in Chase Brexton Health Services’ Mount Vernon building.
While most of the candidates used the opportunity to promote their candidacies, they all indicated strong support for eradicating the disease and called for increased awareness, education and health care as principal components of the effort. Three of them—Dixon, Mosby and Young—had close relatives affected by HIV/AIDS, indicating a personal connection to further motivate them to fight the spread of the disease.
Mosby finds the stigma associated with the disease unacceptable in the community. “It’s time to end this,” he said emphatically. “It starts with leadership; it starts at the top.” As mayor, he would treat it as a top priority.
Dixon emphasized that AIDS is not just a gay disease but it also affects heterosexual people and is “intergenerational.” She pledged to “knock on doors to talk about AIDS.”
Prior to the candidates’ portion, Dr. Leana Wen, health commissioner for the Baltimore City Health Department, provided an overview of what the city is undertaking to prevent HIV/AIDS and to care for the 16,000 residents of Baltimore living with AIDS.
“There is a plan to end AIDS by 2030. We can do it,” she said, noting that one in five Baltimore residents have HIV and are not aware of it.
Jeffrey Hitt, a director from the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, pointed out the behavioral aspects of treating HIV. This includes people taking the prescribed medication as directed.
He pledged support from the state whereby a comprehensive coordinated response is needed to include a recommitment to needle exchange strategies, promoting safer sex practices, self-determination and harm reduction.
Hitt promised, “HIV will be rare and when it does occur, people will have unfettered access to care.”