HIV/AIDS in Washington, D.C., ‘Critical Issue,’ Opinion Piece Says
The recent report that 3% of Washington, D.C., residents are living with HIV/AIDS "evokes an array of reactions that speak to the complexity of this compelling public health issue," Guy Weston -- former director of Data and Research at the district's HIV/AIDS Administration -- writes in a Washington Informer opinion piece. He adds that the statistic is "'quite serious'" when one realizes that it "translates into life-altering impact on 15,120 district residents," their spouses, partners and family members. The district's HIV/AIDS rate is a "critical issue for a significant proportion of [the city's] population," Weston writes, adding that the report "tells us that the highest rates of HIV are among residents aged 40 to 49 and among African-American male residents."
It also is "critical to confront findings of the city's report that frequently escape public discourse," Weston writes, adding that heterosexual sex "is emerging as the leading mode of HIV transmission in recent years, according to the report's analysis." He notes that this "becomes a sticky subject in the world of HIV funding and politics, where discussions of the dynamics of HIV transmission frequently lead to stigma and blame. The fact that such findings affect resource allocation complicates the discussion further." Weston adds that there is no data to suggest that "one transmission mode ... is the primary transmission mode to the exclusion of all others." Therefore, "HIV prevention messages that exclude potential transmission modes will not effectively protect our communities from HIV," he writes. He adds that there is a "'modern, generalized and critical' epidemic that affects a number of populations, albeit in different proportions," concluding, "In addition to the health department's promotion of early testing and condom availability, we, as affected communities, must deal with the message of statistics frankly, so that persons at risk can feel vulnerable enough to know that the testing and condom messages apply to them" (Weston, Washington Informer, 4/16).