Washington, D.C., AIDS Activists Criticize City’s Efforts in African-American Community
AIDS activists in Washington, D.C., said Friday that "[w]ide-ranging action" is needed to combat the increasing HIV infection rate among the city's African Americans, the Washington Post reports. Activists gathered to commemorate the first National HIV/AIDS Awareness and Information Day, held to "highlight how the disease is affecting the black community," finishing the day with a candlelight vigil at Howard University. The activists said they were "disappointed" in how Mayor Anthony Williams (D) and the city, which has the highest HIV infection rate in the country, have handled the situation. Advocates claim that the District's HIV Advisory Committee has not met in the last two years and "complained" that the city has not sponsored any public conferences on the virus to "encourage public discussion of problems and solutions." Ronald King, director of the Office of Boards and Commissions, said that he had met with the mayor that morning about the "revitalization" of the Advisory Committee and added that the city is currently revising the group in order to "widen the impact of the effort to reach a more diverse group." Ivan Torress, assistant to the administrator of the D.C. Agency for HIV/AIDS, added that a city-sponsored two-day conference is planned for December of this year. Activists, however, said they are "increasingly frustrated" not only with the city but also with their own community. "The challenge for those of us who are committed to reducing and eliminating HIV infection in the African-American community is to get our community to understand the severity of the current crises and the devastating impact this epidemic can have in the future," Ron Simmons, executive director of US Helping Us, said. "This epidemic has reached the point where it will take the efforts of all of us -- not only AIDS service organizations, the health department, social service agencies and churches, but black businesses, social and fraternal organizations and everyday people as well," he added. Among the issues facing activists are a shortage of housing for single males with the virus, teenagers' "misconceptions" about the virus and what constitutes safe sex, ways to "destigmatize" the disease and new strategies to reach those in the " drug culture" (Gaines, Washington Post, 2/24).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.