Region Forward Blog

HIV/AIDS: A major problem the DC region must overcome

Dec 21, 2011
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City rankings are abundant measuring everything from how generous cities are in terms of charitable giving how many dog parks and skate parks there have per capita and how artistic cities are based on concentration of artists.

The Washington region often finds itself at the top of city rankings for better or for worse. Just today Richard Florida blogged at Atlantic Cities about how the DC area ranks the highest in the nation in terms of “economic advantage” an index which includes “three measures of regional productivity and wealth: median household income per capita income and average wages and salaries.”

On the other hand we also often find ourselves sitting at or near the top of “most congested” rankings with this year’s edition of the annual Texas Transportation Institute showing the DC region tied with Chicago as having the worst traffic congestion in the country.

Another area where metro Washington really needs to see some dramatic improvement is in relation to its rates of HIV/AIDS. Despite being the seventh largest region in terms of population metro Washington has the third highest number of cumulative AIDS cases in the country. And it’s not just a problem in DC proper 47% of the region’s AIDS cases are located outside the District of Columbia.

HIV/AIDS is therefore a regional epidemic. And lingering stigmas and misinformation are continuing to fuel the epidemic. Although the number of newly diagnosed AIDS cases in the region declined from 1320 in 2006 to 842 in 2009 that’s still far too many. That’s why the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments (COG) and several other sponsors recently held a Regional HIV/AIDS Forum to devise a regional strategy to combat HIV/AIDS in metro Washington.

Jeffrey Crowley Director of the Office of National AIDS Policy was one of the speakers at the Forum and he emphasized President Obama’s commitment to fighting the virus noting that even as other areas have experienced funding cuts HIV/AIDS research and treatment has received increased funding during his administration. Crowley also noted that his office was in the process of creating the first National HIV/AIDS Strategy with the primary goals of reducing infections and increasing access to care and treatment for people with HIV/AIDS.

An expert panel including health officials from Montgomery Prince George’s and Fairfax Counties and the District of Columbia discussed issues related to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in metro Washington. All of the speakers noted that stigma associated with the virus by impeding treatment remains a major barrier to reducing new HIV infections. They all also emphasized the fact that the virus knows no boundaries reinforcing the regional nature of the epidemic.

There are however imbalances in how and the speed with which treatment occurs throughout the region. Dr. Mohammad N. Akhter Director of the DC Department of Health indicated that Mayor Vincent Gray is working to bring President Obama into a Regional HIV/AIDS Strategy modeled partly on the national strategy which would start by performing a treatment and needs assessment as a region.

The forum which was attended by 100 experts officials and community members was a first step towards building a regional strategy to combat the HIV/AIDS problem in metro Washington.

For more information about the regional HIV/AIDS strategy contact Carla Sanchez a health planner at COG. Below is a clip from ABC 7 about the Forum:

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