Washington Post Examines Washington, D.C.’s Struggle To Fight HIV/AIDS
Although Washington, D.C., 20 years ago was considered a "pioneer" in the fight against HIV/AIDS, it now is struggling against the disease, the Washington Post reports. The District of Columbia in March 1986 became one of the first cities to appoint an AIDS coordinator, a position that led to an increase in the number of reported AIDS diagnoses. In addition, the city was one of the first to create an AIDS office to monitor the epidemic and provide care for those affected by HIV/AIDS. However, the "early aggressive action gradually deteriorated in the face of leadership turnover, bureaucratic malaise and political battles," the Post reports. With 11 directors in the past 20 years, the AIDS office, housed in the city's Department of Health, has the highest rate of turnover of all the health department agencies. "How can an office possibly have any kind of stability when it goes through so many directors in that period of time?" Flora Terrell Hamilton, who runs Family & Medical Counseling Service, said. Understaffing remains an issue, most notably in the surveillance division of the district's HIV/AIDS Administration, which collects data on HIV/AIDS, according to the Post. A lack of data has hampered officials' ability to map the incidence of new HIV cases, Marsha Martin, director of the district's HIV/AIDS Administration, said (Vargas, Washington Post, 3/26). A report card released on Thursday by the DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice graded the city on 12 areas the center had recommended for improvement in an August 2005 report. According to the report card, the city's response to the epidemic has been inadequate and poorly coordinated, and city officials are not systematically collecting and analyzing data on the incidence of new HIV cases in the district (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 3/23). Martin said that compared with all other major U.S. cities, the District of Columbia is behind on monitoring the epidemic, adding, "There is no one in D.C. who believes our HIV data is reliable." The city also lacks an HIV-prevention program targeted at teenagers, the Post reports. "There's a lot to clean up, a whole lot to clean up, and it's going to take time," Hamilton said, adding, "But we all have to understand that with a disease like [HIV/]AIDS, time is very, very, very precious" (Washington Post, 3/26).
Jose Antonio Vargas, Washington Post staff writer and author of the series on HIV/AIDS in the District, is scheduled to answer questions about the city's efforts to fight HIV/AIDS in a Washingtonpost.com online chat on Monday at noon ET. A transcript of the chat will be available online.