More than 20,000 HIV/AIDS activists will be in the nation’s capital this weekend to participate in the historic International AIDS Conference held for the first time in the U.S in more than 20 years. Their meeting here will lend itself to opportunities to celebrate historic scientific breakthroughs that have come about recently including the approval from the Food and Drug Administration for a pill “Truvada” that its maker, Gilead, claims to prevent the spread of HIV; and the fact that scientists now believe that we are very close to the discovery of an AIDS vaccine.
Thanks to President Barack Obama, who lifted the U.S. travel ban against people who have tested positive for HIV/AIDS from entering the country, the organizers of this global event decided to bring the conference to the U.S. But it wasn’t by any fluke decision that the conference is being held in the District of Columbia – the capital of the United States and the seat of government. Organizers recognize that the District’s HIV/AIDS rates rank among the highest in the nation and among many poor countries, and by holding the conference here, it would not only bring international attention to the political and scientific fight to end AIDS, but it would also bring to light the crisis that exist in the District.
The recent HIV/AIDS report in the District shows considerable progress being made by government, medical and community-based organizations to get a handle on the AIDS problem. Council member David Catania, chair of the Committee on Health, often states how far the District has come in just having confirmed data that shows the extent of the crisis in D.C. without which solutions would be difficult to pursue. But the numbers also show how far we must go to end the disease. According to the report released in June, which covers the period ending in 2010, 14,465 residents of the District of Columbia – equal to 2.7 percent of the population – are living with HIV. The 2.7 percent exceeds the World Health Organization definition of 1 percent as a generalized epidemic. And, the HIV infection rate in all racial/ethnic groups in the District exceeded 1 percent of their respective populations, with African Americans disproportionately impacted at 4.3 percent.
We would encourage every District resident to visit the Department of Health website to learn first-hand the state of HIV/AIDS in D.C. More importantly, while the International AIDS Conference will focus mostly on scientific information about the disease and may be cost prohibitive for most, the Global Village, which is free and open to the public, is the place where residents of all ages, racial backgrounds, gender and sexual orientation will want to visit during the conference. It’s an educational and cultural experience that will bring home the impact this disease has had on humanity and why everyone has a role to play to end AIDS forever.