In D.C. 'everyday should be HIV Awareness Day'
As the country celebrated the 12th anniversary of National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day on Wednesday, Feb. 7, local activists and public health officials had their eyes focused to the future, specifically, July 22-27, 2012. On these dates, the District is set to host the 29th International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2012) at the Walter Washington Convention Center. The convention of the world's leading HIV/AIDS researchers, physicians, and activists is expected to bring more than 30,000 attendees and create millions in economic development activity.
For Don Blanchon, executive director of Whitman-Walker Health, recognized as one of the District's leading health centers focusing on preventing HIV and treating AIDS patients, this summer's AIDS conference represents a real opportunity for the District and its residents. According to Blanchon, the conference provides a global spotlight on local efforts of governmental and private groups like his to combat a virus and disease that has disproportionately impacted the African-American community in the nation's capital.
While African-Americans comprise around 51 percent of all D.C. residents, 79.9 percent of the District's AIDS population is African-American, based upon figures from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Given these figures, "If you're African-American in the District, every day should be HIV awareness day," noted Blanchon.
The District's AIDS activists have been working diligently to ensure the AIDS patient community, providers, and advocates play a prominent role in the many activities planned for the summer gathering. These efforts have been supported by the AIDS 2012 organizers and the District government.
With the backing of the conference organizers, local AIDS groups have formed the DC Community Coalition. This alliance of AIDS stakeholders has a specific goal.
"Engaging the D.C. community in all aspects of the conference, from highlighting local AIDS providers to recruiting hosts and volunteers," said coalition co-chair Wallace Corbett.
The D.C. government also has been at the forefront of preparing for the arrival of the AIDS 2012. Under the leadership of Mayor Vince Gray (D), the District has established its own AIDS Conference Host Committee. Chaired by former Mayor Sharon Pratt, this committee is charged with working together with the local business community to ensure conferees enjoy the full hospitality of the nation's capital and get the most out of the international conference, said Dr. Gregory Pappas, MD, who heads the District's HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD, and TB Administration.
This government-led host committee is managed by one of Dr. Pappas' staffers, Wanda Lockridge, wife of the late William Lockridge, former Ward 8 representative to the D.C. State Board of Education. The committee meets monthly. For more information on the District's organizing efforts for AIDS 2012 and how you can get involved, visit the washingtoninforer.com.