March 17, 2009

AIDS in DC: "Severe Epidemic"

Shocking news in the Washington Post yesterday: the rate of HIV/AIDS infection in DC is at an alarming 3%. The article quotes Shannon L. Hader, director of the District's HIV/AIDS Administration, as saying that our rates are "higher than West Africa...on par with Uganda and some parts of Kenya."

To be sure, prevention and treatment in DC has historically been pretty spotty and ineffective. In fact, federal funding for needle exchange programs in the District was banned until just last year.

Right up through the ban, Bread for the City operated our needle exchange program without federal funding - read more about this here. But despite this program, Bread for the City providers observe that the incidence of HIV/AIDS infection among our clients is somewhat lower than the average rate of infection. Far lower than what one might expect. One reason for this is that there are clinics like Whitman Walker that provide special care for people with AIDS/HIV.

But another, more worrisome reason is that the people who are most likely to be carrying the virus -- individuals with very high-risk lifestyles -- are probably isolated from health services of all kinds. Bread for the City offers a nearly unlimited supply free condoms, but people need to walk through our doors to actually get them. For the many DC residents that are at a high risk of infection and transmission, only dedicated outreach programs can address the problem.

Prevention Works
is just such a program. Formed during the years of the federal ban against needle exchange programs, Prevention Works initially operated as a needle exchange operation conducted by mobile units outreaching directly into high-risk communities. In the past decade it has evolved to offer a more comprehensive set of solutions, and is now in the process of establishing a community center. Bread for the City does have a working partnership with Prevention Works: our medical center receives referrals from them in cases where more advanced medical care is needed. Check them out here, and support them if you too are concerned about the persistent, intensifying AIDS epidemic in DC.

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