- The Washington Times - Monday, September 2, 2019

A new report shows that there was only a slight decrease in newly diagnosed HIV cases in the District last year, indicating that D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is far from meeting her goal of halving the number of new cases by 2020.

“By working hand in hand with our community partners, we have been able to not only prevent new cases, but also more quickly deliver treatment to residents who are diagnosed with HIV,” Miss Bowser said in a press release last week. “This year’s report once again provides a roadmap for how we can continue working together to increase access to services and move closer to reaching the goals laid out in the 90/90/90/50 plan.”

The mayor’s 90/90/90/50 plan to end the HIV epidemic by 2020 has four goals: 90% of HIV-positive D.C. residents know their status, 90% are in treatment, 90% each viral load suppression and new cases are reduced by 50%.

In 2018, the District reported 360 new HIV cases, 13 fewer than the previous year.

D.C. officials are aiming to reduce the number of new diagnosed cases to 200 by 2020, “but we are not quite there yet,” said Michael Kharfen, senior deputy director of the HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD and TB Administration in the D.C. Department of Health.

The number of new HIV cases has declined by 73% since 2007, when 1,374 new cases were reported.

D.C. Health has two primary strategies for reducing new HIV cases: starting people on treatment as soon as they are diagnosed and getting more people to take pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which prevents HIV from spreading, and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), which is taken after potentially having been exposed to HIV.

“We are trying to get people onto treatment the same day they get their diagnoses because that has not been the standard,” Mr. Kharfen said. “When you start medication right away, it means your viral load decreases right away.”

Through the Health Department, uninsured residents can enroll in programs to access PrEP, which is taken once a day.

Soon there will be opportunities to access PEP, which Mr. Kharfen called the “Plan B” of HIV medication and is the newest prevention tool.

The city’s latest HIV report showed an increase of cases among black and Hispanic communities. Of the newly diagnosed cases over the last four years, 1 in 5 were black women and 1 in 3 were men who have sex with men of color.

D.C. health officials are working with community leaders to address these disparities, Mr. Kharfen said. The Health Department has hired more than 70 health impact specialists to connect residents HIV testing and treatment.

Dr. Sarah Henn, chief health officer with Whitman-Walker Health, said many jurisdictions are seeing a stagnation in the decrease of new HIV cases.

For the first time, more than half of the population living with HIV in the District is over the age of 50, which shows the duration of the epidemic, said Dr. Henn, an infectious diseases physician.

“It is a reminder to us that people are sexual human beings throughout the span of their life and risk doesn’t disappear with age,” Dr. Henn said.

One in 3 of new cases over the last four years were people in their 20s.

However, the District has nearly eliminated the transmission of HIV from mothers to infants, with no babies born with the virus in 2018.

More than 12,000 D.C. residents, or 1.8% of the population, are living with HIV. A communicable disease that is prevalent in 1% of the population is an epidemic, according to the World Health Organization.

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