- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 24, 2011

The John A. Wilson Building may cast a reddish glow next week to signal a series of efforts aimed at increasing awareness of HIV/AIDS in the District.

City officials are finalizing plans to light up city hall at Pennsylvania Avenue and 14th Street Northwest with a ring of red-filtered lights — the color that symbolizes the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic — in conjunction with World AIDS Day on Dec. 1.

Council member David A. Catania, at-large independent and chairman of the Committee on Health, and council Chairman Kwame R. Brown have scheduled a slate of all-day testing, panels and hearings at the Wilson Building. The activities are part of ongoing efforts to shine a light on HIV/AIDS, which continues to affect a disproportionate number of D.C. residents despite progress in recent years.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study released in February showed that the District had an AIDS diagnosis rate of 119.8 per 100,000 people as of 2009, far exceeding the national rate of 11.2 per 100,000 and of the rate in any other jurisdiction, although the report compares the District to states and territories and not other cities.

In June, the 2010 updated report on HIV/AIDS in the District said 3.2 percent of D.C. adults and adolescents are HIV-positive, well above the World Health Organization threshold of 1 percent for a generalized epidemic.

However, the report showed a significant drop in the number of deaths among infected people and gains in the number of people seeking early detection and treatment and receiving free antiretroviral medication.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services estimates that 1.7 million people have been infected by HIV in the United States since the first reported cases in June 1981. Of them, about 615,000 have died and about 1.1 million are living with it today.

About 20 percent of people with HIV in the United States are not aware of their infection, according to the federal statistics.

In July, the District is expecting about 25,000 visitors for the AIDS Society’s biannual conference, AIDS 2012, in which specialists will meet at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center to discuss ways to stem the epidemic.

On the local level, the District has offered free HIV testing at its Department of Motor Vehicles’ Penn Branch Office for a year and this week added testing to its Anacostia Services Center on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast.

The public-private partnership is hosted by the Department of Human Services and conducted by Family and Medical Counseling Services Inc., with funding from Gilead Sciences Inc. The city’s Department of Health provided the HIV test children and informational materials.

“While District residents are seeking income support, food stamps, Medicaid and other benefits, residents will now be able to learn their HIV status as a routine part of their health and wellness,” Mr. Gray said.

On Dec. 1, a mobile testing bus from Calvary Health Care will be available in front of the Wilson Building from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. A public awareness fair will take place from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. in the building’s atrium.