December 2, 2008

On this blog, it's AIDS Week

So, yesterday was World AIDS Day, but we'd like to stretch it out a bit. A day is not enough, and neither is a week for that matter, to talk about the complex branches of the AIDS epidemic.

I dropped in to Bread for the City's medical clinic yesterday to speak with our staff about AIDS in our community. As Maggie wrote here, about one in twenty DC residents has HIV/AIDS -- and many of them are low-income residents without sufficient access to medical care.

Despite the high statistics, rough estimates put the proportion of clients with HIV/AIDS here at Bread for the City a bit lower than the average in the District. The word in our clinic is that other community health clinics report the same thing. We couldn't put a finger on the exact reason(s) for this (anyone out there care to share their insight?) -- and limited access to data surely makes it harder to assess the situation -- but the sense around here is that a significant number of DC residents living with HIV/AIDS simply aren't getting proper care of any kind. That's a sobering thought.

Of course, we regularly make referrals for people with HIV/AIDS to seek specialized care at nearby clinics like Whitman-Walker. When it comes to our own clients, we provide services that are at both basic and essential: condoms that are freely available at our front desks, in our medical clinic, food pantry, and intake rooms, a Needle Exchange Program (which is one area where some promising gains have recently been made in addressing AIDS in our community), and regular testing.

In fact, all Bread for the City medical clinic clients get tested for AIDS annually. Dr. Randi, our Medical Clinic Director, tells me that, "regular testing is as much a part of basic primary care as checking blood pressure."

It's a statement that seems both plainly true and less normative than it should be. Consider a recent New York Times editorial about a proposal that could virtually halt the AIDS epidemic in its tracks. The proposal basically amounts to: test everyone every year, and immediately provide treatment to those who test positive. The NYT editorial says that the implications of this "thought experiment" are "breathtaking."

I would have gone with "obvious." It's frustrating to think that such a terrible problem has such a simple solution. But acknowledging the existence of a solution - no matter how vast the scale - is a fine place to start.

(PS: For those interested in more localized information about AIDS in our community, Fight HIV in DC is also a fine place to start.)

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