Washington Releases City’s First Statistics on HIV
January 11, 2008—Washington, D.C., has the highest number of AIDS cases in the nation—nine times the national average—according to a report released by the District of Columbia’s Department of Health in November 2007. 1 One in 20 Washington residents is infected with HIV and one in 50 has AIDS. These rates are higher than those in some sub-Saharan African nations. This was the first time that the health department has released statistics on HIV.
The report clearly illustrates the disproportionate impact of HIV on Washington’s African-American community. African-American residents accounted for 81 percent of new HIV cases and 86 percent of new AIDS cases between 2001 and 2006, although they represent only 57 percent of Washington’s population. Among infected women in Washington, 90 percent were African-American. HIV was spread through heterosexual transmission in approximately 30 percent of cases, and 33 percent of cases occurred among men who have sex with men. These figures are a reminder that HIV, once considered a disease of gay men, is now spreading into other segments of the population.
Besides sexual transmission, the use of unsterile syringes by injection drug users (IDUs) continues to be a major factor in the spread of HIV in Washington. IDUs accounted for 21 percent of new infections between 2001 and 2006. The risk of HIV transmission can be dramatically reduced by offering users access to clean syringes and drug treatment programs.
The report also found that Washington accounted for nine percent of all pediatric HIV/AIDS cases in the U.S. in 2005. This figure should be close to zero, since perinatal HIV transmission can be prevented through proper prenatal care. Obstacles to mother-to-child HIV prevention in Washington include lack of access to proper care and treatment, failure to test pregnant women for HIV before delivery, and a lack of birth control for HIV-positive women.
These statistics indicate that more aggressive prevention efforts are needed, including access to syringe exchange programs, HIV testing, increased prenatal care, and condoms. However, HIV/AIDS clinics, including the Whitman-Walker Clinic, Washington’s largest AIDS service provider, continue to be underfunded. Washington Mayor Adrian Fenty has pledged to work with hospitals to increase HIV testing in emergency settings and to triple the number of free condoms distributed by the city by the end of 2008. Mayor Fenty has also pledged to expand access to syringe exchange programs throughout Washington.