D.C. HIV/AIDS Report Reveals Fewer Deaths

Dorothy Rowley | 6/27/2012, 11:12 a.m.

Infections Still Rampant Among Low-Income Black Women

Two years ago, the District of Columbia struggled to get a grip on its burgeoning HIV/AIDS cases which had reached pandemic proportions among the heterosexual population, and giving the city notoriety as the leading AIDS infected jurisdiction in the nation.

But even more disturbing is that in spite of its concerted efforts to quell the number of new cases, infections among heterosexual black women - particularly those living in the poorest wards in the city, have nearly doubled since 2008.

The good news however, is that in addition to the city showing a dip in the overall number of new AIDS cases in four years coupled with improvements that have gotten infected individuals into care more quickly, 76 percent of infected people received care within three months of diagnosis in 2010.

"The 2011 'HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD and TB Epidemiology Report' is a picture of progress and we try to follow the national HIV/AIDS strategy," Mayor Vincent Gray said on June 20 during a standing-room only press conference at N Street Village in Northwest, where he along with Dr. Mohammad Akhter, director of the D.C. Department of Health and Dr. Gregory Pappas, senior director at the department, shared findings contained in the 96-page study. However, officials said little about how the epidemic has become commonplace among black females.

"It's an initiative that I have been devoted to for a long time," said Gray, 69. "We're treating the whole person and a set of conditions . . . they [can obtain] treatment right away [as opposed to having to] wait months and months."

Nevertheless, with black women in D.C. taking the lead in newly-diagnosed cases, there remains great cause for concern as their numbers are also indicative of growing incidences of infections across the country. Particularly after a study in 2009 of 40 U.S. states and territories showed that 66 percent of women diagnosed with HIV happened to be African American as opposed to 17 percent white, and 14 percent Hispanic.

A Center for Disease Control and Prevention report in 2009 also revealed that when black men accounted for 70 percent of the estimated new HIV infections among all blacks, African-American women living in poverty-stricken areas such as the District's wards 7 and 8, accounted for 90 percent of the estimated new HIV infections among all blacks in the city. That not only means that the number of black women in the District who've contracted HIV has doubled from 6.8 percent over the past four years, but that they most likely represent a minority who have no idea they have been infected.

To that end, D.C. resident Zelphia Turner, who has been HIV positive for 24 years, pleaded with other females to get tested. She also urged those who have tested positive for HIV to take their medications diligently. Turner, whose daughter was born with HIV, said that because of advances in medicines, living with HIV/AIDS is no longer the death sentence it used to be. As a result, she has become committed to helping others deal with their affliction.