D.C., Tops Statistics in AIDS Cases

Washington, D.C.,
health officials report that the rate of HIV infection
is the highest of any city in the country. Infants, older
adults, women, and heterosexual men are becoming
infected at epidemic pace.

The New York Times reports that more than
12,400 people in the District of Columbia, about 1 in 50,
are living with AIDS or HIV. Black residents are
hardest hit, accounting for 81% of new reports of HIV
infection and 86% of people with AIDS, though the city's
population is only 57% African-American.

The D.C. report
also notes that from 2001 to 2006 56 children aged 13 or
younger became either HIV-positive or were suffering from
AIDS. Nearly all of them were infected at birth,
accounting for 6% of all mother-to-child HIV
infections in the nation in the last five years. City
officials are alarmed by these numbers, as routine HIV
testing during pregnancy, quick-result oral swabs
during labor, and antiretroviral drugs can prevent
transmission during delivery.

In more than 37%
of the cases detected from 2001 to 2006, the disease was
spread through heterosexual contact, 25% were through
homosexual contact, and 13% via IV drug use.

This is the first
study of HIV and AIDS statistics in the city;
its AIDS prevention office has been faulted for failure
to track and fight the disease. Advocates for AIDS
patients point to high turnover of the office's
directors, with 13 different directors having served
during a period of less than 20 years. Shannon Hader,
director since October, has announced plans for a more
aggressive awareness campaign. Last year the city
increased free screening locations and began
distributing condoms.

“We are
also trying to raise awareness that there are programs in
the city where people who are infected can get
antiretroviral treatment, even if they do not have
insurance and or cannot afford to pay for the
treatment,” Hader told the Times.

Because of its
unique status, the District of Columbia is the only city
in the nation whose system of government is controlled by
Congress. Washington is also the only city in the
country barred by federal law from using local tax
money to finance needle exchange programs. For nearly
a decade members of the House have inserted language into
the bill approving the city's budget to prevent
financing of such programs, claiming concern that the
programs would lead to higher drug use. (The

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