- The Washington Times - Friday, January 19, 2007

Dr. Gregg Pane, the director of the D.C. Department of Health, has named himself the interim director of the Administration for HIV Policy and Programs and has named Marie Sansone (currently in charge of HIV surveillance) as his chief of staff. Dr. Pane told the Washington Blade recently that his decision to take on the temporary role stemmed from wanting to “get to the bottom of the problems” the AIDS administration has seen in the past. We hope that Dr. Pane’s 20-plus years of experience in the public health sector will revamp the AIDS agency, as the staggering infection rates in the District warrant urgent action.

In what appears to be a step in that direction, the Washington Free Clinic closed its doors yesterday after nearly 40 years and will move its 12-person staff to the Whitman-Walker Clinic’s Elizabeth Taylor facility so that comprehensive health care for the underserved continues. Health-care and insurance policies continue to undergo significant changes, and it has become increasingly difficult for small clinics “to stay viable,” Gardiner Lapham of the Washington Free Clinic said.

Whitman-Walker, no stranger to financial struggle, had been looking to incorporate primary care into its current operations to the homosexual community with a focus on HIV/AIDS care. The goal is to retain that mission, but to also expand its capacity. Both clinics have done tremendous work in the District. Advocates hope that, by joining forces, they will be better equipped to reach more people and provide more comprehensive health care.

In terms of policy, it is long past the time for the city to stare down the atrocious HIV rate: 1 in 20 residents. Mayor Adrian Fenty has not yet articulated his administration’s overall health-care policies, but we do support his decision to replace the Williams administration HIV/AIDS administrator. The District has to do far more than “blanket” the city with condoms to reverse the current HIV/AIDS crisis.

Kim Mills, director of communications for Whitman-Walker, said she is confident that the Fenty administration will continue to spread the message of testing and prevention. We are reserving comment until we see the mayor’s concrete plans.

Going forward, the city and nonprofit groups need to take a head-on approach to HIV prevention and work diligently to ensure policies and public dollars are spent on practices that work. New directors and a new direction, coupled with the growing efforts at Whitman-Walker, are good first steps.

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