SIMMONS: HIV/AIDS bill addresses need but has downside, too

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ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Twenty years ago next month, Magic Johnson shocked the sports world and fans around the globe when he humbly revealed that he had tested positive for HIV after engaging in multiple heterosexual relations outside his marriage. Today, Mr. Johnson and countless others are sustained by antiretroviral drugs, other treatments and health regimens.

This week, another champion in the battle against HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases, D.C. Council member David Catania, singled out baby boomers and other older Americans as a demographic desperately in need of HIV/AIDS intervention.

On Tuesday, Mr. Catania introduced the Senior HIV/AIDS Education and Outreach Program Establishment Act of 2011, which calls for the D.C. Health Department to development partnerships that would provide peer-to-peer programs at nursing and retirement homes as well as government-run facilities that cater to the over-50 crowd.

At first blush, Mr. Catania’s proposal appears spot-on: Nationally, adults 50 or older rose from 19.2 percent of new AIDS cases in 2005 to 26.4 percent in 2009. In the District, 7.4 percent of residents age 40 to 49 and 6.1 percent of those 50 to 59 are living with HIV/AIDS.

“Providing appropriate HIV information to this population requires certain sensitivities,” said Mr. Catania, at-large independent. “This program will fill an important information gap in the District’s health-education and risk-reduction efforts and provide desperately needed information on HIV transmission to a demographic increasingly at risk.”

The development of programs tailored to this aging demographic could be a smart new health care tool alongside HIV/AIDS prophylactics and pharmaceutical advancements.

But the general public, in its eagerness to fight the good fight against HIV/AIDS, mustn’t turn a blind eye to the fact that the Catania bill includes offering a government-dictated curriculum, workshops and presentations at faith-based facilities.

That aspect in and of itself is odorous.

That Mr. Catania’s bill targets the Viagra generation as the District finally begins to stare at its shameful highest-in-the-nation HIV/AIDS rate of 3.2 percent is worthy of deliberations, but those discussions must be transparent, too, because anytime and every time a lawmaker proposes a measure with religious undertones, the public’s eyes should open wide.

America, after all, is grounded in the ethos of freedom of religion and the free exercise thereof.

Reefer madness: What do Wal-Mart, a strip club, The Washington Times and former talk-show-host-turned-pitchman Montel Williams have in common?

They all may soon be neighbors.

If Mr. Williams and his fellow activists have their way, marijuana, the drug of choice of the “Make love, not war” crowd of the ‘60s, will be available for your shopping convenience along the Northeast gateway to the nation’s capital.

It’s part of the reefer madness that’s sweeping the nation as medical-marijuana activists such as Mr. Williams hurtle across the county.

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About the Author
Deborah Simmons

Deborah Simmons

Award-winning opinion writer Deborah Simmons is a senior correspondent who reports on City Hall and writes about education, culture, sports and family-related topics. Mrs. Simmons has worked at several newspapers, and since joining The Washington Times in 1985, has served as editorial-page editor and features editor and on the metro desk. She has taught copy editing at the University of ...

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