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Report: Progress shown on D.C. AIDS control

- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 19, 2012

The District has been a leader in HIV/AIDS testing and education this year, but it has a long way to go before controlling the epidemic, according to a report card released Thursday by a local nonprofit policy organization.

"The greatest success is that the city is starting to do things that are really cutting-edge, and there are areas where the city is doing things that could lend themselves to being a national model," said Walter Smith, executive director of DC Appleseed, which wrote the report.

In its report, the seventh the group has issued, DC Appleseed commended the D.C. government for excelling in areas such as testing, HIV surveillance, education and condom distribution.

While the city is innovating, it still faces very high HIV/AIDS rates. The District's rate of cases is among the highest in the nation, Mr. Smith said.

"The major challenge left before us is we need to get people into careand we need to get people to stay on care," said Dr. Gregory Pappas, senior deputy director of the D.C. Department of Health's HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD,and TB Administration.

Dr. Pappas said the city should focus more on sustained treatment, which lowers the risk of both contracting AIDS and transmitting the disease to others.

Only one-fourth of HIV-positive people are currently under sustained treatment, he said.

The District is doing more than almost all cities of the same sizewhen it comes to testing, but that's still not enough, Mr. Smith said.

Last year, more than 122,000 government-administered HIV tests were given, an increase of 11 percent. But to achieve the city's goal of preventing HIV through testing and treatment, nearly everybody needs to be tested -- a goal that is still a long way off, Mr. Smith said. He believes one of the best methods for achieving this is to incorporate HIV testing into routine doctor visits.

New testing strategies for the year included testing at the Department of Motor Vehicles and offices that provide food stamps, as well as a switch from oral tests to cheaper finger-stick ones, he said.

More public tests have led to supplies running out faster and a lower score on the DC Appleseed report card, Mr. Smith said.

Public schools have been doing more to make sure students know about HIV/AIDS.This year, the office of the state superintendent of education added a section on health and physical education -- including questions about HIV/AIDS -- to standardized tests.

D.C. is the only jurisdiction in the nation to include health and sexual education on its standardized testing, according to the report. The testing increased the District's report card score on education.

DC Appleseed's annual report card collects information from throughout the District and awards grades in 12 categories, such as testing, public education, condom distribution and grants managementbased on progress and results in the city's approach to HIV/AIDS. This year, most grades were the same as last year,with As and Bs in almost every category.

Next year, DC Appleseed will also grade the District on housing and HIV treatment and care.

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