A. Toni Young, AIDS Warrior
Barrington M. Salmon | 7/20/2012, 12:31 p.m.
At the end of the day, there remains a great deal left to be done. And the easiest and best way to defeat this disease, she said, is through knowledge and information, said Young.
"There is a lack of awareness of where HIV is in the District," Young said. "And the surveillance reports say that a high number of African-American women in D.C. have HIV/AIDS. True enough there's a problem but the other piece not being looked at is male partners. The assumption is that MSM [men having sex with men] had sex with all these women but we have a population of [heterosexual] men living with AIDS."
"We have to scale up outreach, testing and educational efforts for those men as well. They're saying 'it's not me.' They're believing the same narrative that 'I'm not either one so it's not me.'"
A sensible, strategic use of all available resources is key, she explained.
"We need to increases the resources to bring, maintain and ensure that medicines are available to people free or at a low cost," Young said. "Is it possible? It's certainly feasible. We have the science to end it, we have the methods to end it. We know how to end it, but will we pay to end it?"
"We have to test individuals, get them into care, maintain them and reduce the viral loads. With less infections, there is less of a likelihood of infecting anyone else."
Young, 48, acknowledges the enormity of the task of combating HIV and AIDS in communities east of the Anacostia River and the numbers and statistical data bear that out.
"We have a lot of work to do east of the river," she said.
Results of a recent study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionshow that three percent of the city's residents have the disease, a total that moves the disease into the category of a pandemic. And according to the District's 2011 'HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD and TB Epidemiology Report,' - released in June - since 2008, the number of people with new infections doubled with black women representing the segment of the population most affected. Heterosexual women living in Wards 7 and 8 make up about 90 percent of newly diagnosed cases.
MSM remains the leading way in which the disease is transmitted. Intravenous drug use and heterosexual transmission are not far behind, according to the report.
The good news is that there was a dip in the overall number of new AIDS cases in the District from four years ago and there have been noted improvements with infected individuals receiving care more promptly. The data indicates that 76 percent of infected people received care within three months of diagnosis in 2010.
In the aftermath of the Supreme Court's 5-to-4 ruling in support of the Affordable Care Act, this is a great time to be involved in health care, Young said.
"This is one of the most unique and opportune times to be in health care," she said.
Young said she was pleased the District of Columbia is hosting the upcoming AIDS conference, and this will provide the opportunity for the city to showcase the progress that has been made in combating the disease.
About 25,000 delegates and more than 2,000 media representatives from around the world are expected at the 19th International AIDS Conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center on July 22-27.
"It is symbolic and a sign of President Obama's commitment," she said. "If it wasn't for him lifting the ban, the conference would not be here."