Washington, D.C., Struggling To End Backlog of HIV/AIDS Case Reports, Washington Post Reports
A backlog of 2,000 to 3,000 HIV/AIDS case records and death records caused by a June 2005 contamination in the ceiling of the Washington, D.C., Administration for HIV Policy and Programs offices has "consumed most of the department's time," and city officials say the District of Columbia is behind in tracking new HIV cases and reporting AIDS-related deaths, the Washington Post reports. The records, which date from 2003 through 2005, could not be accessed for more than a year by HIV administration officials. "Getting through these boxes is of the highest priority," Marie Sansone, surveillance chief for the Administration for HIV Policy and Programs, said, adding, "We can't release any reports -- of HIV cases, AIDS cases or AIDS deaths -- until we get through these backlog cases." According to the Post, Sansone and her staff have recorded 1,323 HIV cases and 310 AIDS cases among the backlogged records they have examined, and they have at least 1,000 more cases to review. "We're surrounded by all these documents, all these cases," Sansone said, adding, "and they're really all people."
Staffing, Other Issues
Past directors of the agency have said finding qualified staffers has long been a hurdle. According to the Post, the district does not pay as much compared with other cities, and the "agency's reputation" has been "another impediment." Sansone said the administration's surveillance department, which has four vacant positions among a staff of 16, is "really a bare-bones operation." Joan Wright-Andoh, surveillance chief for the HIV administration from 1998 through 2004, said she was unable for three years to hire a trained epidemiologist to analyze data. "There's been neglect to this part of the system for unfortunately more years than we know," Marsha Martin, director of the agency, said. In addition, there are issues associated with the lack of reliable surveillance data provided by the HIV administration. "The fact is, we don't have a data-driven process, and we can't really say that the funding is following the epidemic," Catalina Sol -- HIV/AIDS director at La Clinica del Pueblo and a member of the HIV Prevention Community Planning Group and the Ryan White Planning Council -- said. She added, "When you don't have data that people can trust, when you don't have data that is accurate, you're making people invisible" (Vargas, Washington Post, 12/30/06). At a Mayor's Task Force on HIV and AIDS meeting in September 2006, initial results released from a Washington, D.C., campaign to have all residents tested for HIV show that HIV prevalence in the city is more than twice the nation's average. According to these statistics, released three months into the HIV testing drive, nearly 3% of the more than 7,000 district residents who have been tested are HIV-positive (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 9/20/06).