HIV/AIDS Education in Washington, D.C., Schools Lacking, Other City Efforts Improving, Group Finds
Delays in implementing a comprehensive HIV/AIDS education program in Washington, D.C., public schools are putting students at risk and undermining the city's efforts to fight the disease, according to a report released Wednesday by the DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, the Washington Post reports. The center has given the district's public school system a "D" grade for its lack of progress in providing HIV/AIDS education to students, according to the Post.
"In the midst of this crisis, students should be getting information in school that will help prevent infection for the rest of their lives," the report said, adding that despite several school board resolutions for immediate action, "fewer and fewer" young people have received HIV/AIDS education in recent years. The group called on school board leaders and Mayor Adrian Fenty's administration to set strong standards and curricula on HIV/AIDS before classes start next fall. "The district's young people are entitled to nothing less," the report said.
Appleseed Executive Director Walter Smith said the report would have given the school system a failing grade if officials had not committed to making changes. HIV/AIDS education "simply wasn't made a high priority," Smith said. District School Chancellor Michelle Rhee in a statement released Tuesday acknowledged the issues. "Going forward," the school system is "committed to implementing comprehensive health curriculum that includes instruction on HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases," Rhee said. The school board is scheduled to vote on Thursday on the overall standards that will be the initial steps toward the health curriculum goal, the Post reports.
According to the Post, the school system's grade is a "glaring negative" in a report card that also reflects signs of improvement in the district's HIV/AIDS efforts. The group issued an "A" to two of the 12 areas evaluated in the report, and six other categories received their highest score to date. This is the third assessment that Appleseed has issued since March 2006. Appleseed said that the scores reflect the district government's success this year "in creating the beginnings of an infrastructure of a properly functioning public health system to address the epidemic, something lacking in the district for quite some time."
The most recent HIV/AIDS figures for the district found that almost 12,500 people were known to be living with the disease in 2006 and that more than 80% of several thousand new HIV cases since 2001 occurred among black residents, the Post reports. Although the figures "renewed criticism" of the HIV/AIDS Administration's prior handling of the epidemic, they represented an important statistical "breakthrough" for which Appleseed awarded an "A," according to the Post. The report also includes a number of accomplishments on disease surveillance by the HIV/AIDS Administration, such as fixing a HIV/AIDS case backlog and working with community groups, laboratories and doctors for better data collection. The report said that the improvement in HIV/AIDS surveillance "does not by itself advance the city's response to the epidemic" but provides "a much needed new tool for targeting that response."
The report also noted that the HIV/AIDS Administration now has more than four dozen hospitals, clinics, private doctors and not-for-profit groups doing routine HIV testing during medical care. In addition, the agency increased its distribution of no-cost condoms from 115,000 last year to a projected one million this year, and it responded quickly when groups complained about some of the condom packaging, Appleseed said. HIV/AIDS Administration Director Shannon Hader, who took office in mid-October, has pledged to triple the number of condoms distributed by 2009. Hader expressed satisfaction with the evaluation, adding, "It helps us to have another eye on what we're doing, to give us feedback."
The district's Department of Corrections received the highest score from the group. About 75% of inmates at the district jail are screened for HIV/AIDS on arrival, the Post reports. Beginning in January, HIV-positive inmates will receive a 28-day supply of antiretroviral drugs on discharge so their treatment is not interrupted. The two initiatives are "at the forefront of the nation," Appleseed's report said. "Enormous progress has been made," Susan Galbraith -- director of the not-for-profit Our Place DC, which assists women who have been incarcerated -- said (Levine, Washington Post, 12/12).
The report is available online (.pdf).