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Councilmen Gray, M. Brown Support HIV Testing Day, Get Tested

Shantella Y. Sherman | 7/1/2009, 5:42 p.m.

Members of the D.C. City Council, Council chair Vincent C. Gray (D- Ward 7), and Council members David A. Catania (I-At Large) and Michael Brown (I €" At Large), recognized National HIV Testing Day on Mon., June 29, by being tested themselves, and by partnering with the Carl Vogel Center in Northwest to offer free testing outside the John A. Wilson Building.

€There was a day when people were not aware of the [HIV/AIDS] epidemic and as a result, three percent of the people here €" that€s between 15 and 20 thousand are infected. Another five percent don€t know they are infected,€ Gray said.

Residents continue to engage in risky behaviors, which leads to a citywide pandemic of AIDS infections. Others, Gray added, are simply unaware that the crisis exists. By being tested, the council members believed they would be able to halt the growth of AIDS in the District.

Counselors were on hand to talk about the level of increased infections within all segments of the D.C. population. They stressed that senior citizens taking Viagra, recreational drinkers and drug users, and former inmates in prisons outside of the District who have not been tested before release, exacerbate the numbers.

€Many people have become desensitized to the message about HIV and AIDS. They see people living healthier with the disease, and they aren€t seeing the blotchy skin and purple Sarcoma on the skin,€ said Angela Brown, 30, an information counselor with the Carl Vogel Center in Northwest.

€The [lack of] visual effects of AIDS has caused a lot of people in D.C. to believe that the people they are having sex with are not infected when they are,€ she said.

€We know now that the disease is spread in a myriad of ways, so we can address needle exchanges and we can deal with heterosexual transmissions. We know that many of the populations that could be helped have not been assisted well enough,€ said Gray, as he referred to the more than 120 grants available to the city in 2005, totaling $22 million. Gray said that of the funds released, €none went to an organization indigenous to Wards 7 or 8.€

Wards 7 and 8 have the highest number of HIV/AIDS in the District.

Michael Brown said that he was interested in €changing the stigma€ with his involvement. He said despite the millions spent each year on AIDS education, there is still a need for more on the front end.

€Even when we believe that we are answering a call, we find that some are being left out. For instance, in every public school in the District, there is an HIV/AIDS education program, but there is no program within the charter school system,€ Michael Brown said.

€You have these young people from two different school systems becoming involved with each other and one has the proper knowledge, while the other doesn€t,€ he added.

He compared the District€s pandemic to those of under-developed nations like Rwanda and the Republic of the Congo.

The testing was free and confidential and allowed anyone age 13 and older to be tested without parental consent and to receive results within minutes. Some area teens took advantage of the free testing.

€I came to get tested because some of these girls out here are scandalous. [It€s] not like they are trying to trick anyone into getting AIDS, but you just can€t tell anymore when a girl who looks good is really foul,€ said Carlito Kennedy, 17, of Southeast.

Kennedy said he saw the free testing signs being held by volunteers outside the Wilson building and decided to get tested. €Better safe than sorry, you know,€ Kennedy said.

Counselors also suggested that among teen residents, rough or violent sex may also be contributing to the rupture of particular brands of condoms, including Durex and Lifestyles.

€A lot of the young people we see are constantly complaining of ruptured condoms. I don€t believe it is the manufacturer, but that it is activities they are engaging in. The belief is that their partners €look well€ so it is important that they be educated on the development of the disease, its incubation, and its spread,€ said Vernial Batts, who works with the counseling, testing and referral services at Family and Medical Counseling Services in Southeast.

Gray said that with continued education and testing, the day will one day come when the rate of HIV,AIDS infection in the District will be zero percent.