Ten years ago, Washington, D.C., could just as easily lay claim to being the AIDS capital as much as it’s the nation’s capital. Residents were diagnosed with HIV at the alarming rate of nearly four per day.
A decade later, the District has seen a stunning 74 percent decline in new cases — the rate currently stands at less than one resident per day.
“I’m pleased to say that we have made considerable progress,” Mayor Muriel Bowser said when those statistics were released in the summer. “[But] I don’t have to tell you, there’s more work to do.”
Indeed there is, because despite the progress, the District still leads the nation in HIV cases.
Ahead of World AIDS Day on Dec. 1, Bowser and other city leaders, health professionals and advocates around the globe are touting the 2017 theme — “Increasing Impact through Transparency, Accountability, and Partnerships.”
In the District, officials said they’ve worked diligently to form partnerships that have led to a needle-exchange program, condom distribution and increasing the use of preventive medicine that has helped to curtail the spread of HIV, which can lead to AIDS.
“It’s important to get an HIV test at least once a year and more often than that every three or six months, depending on your behavior and how much risk you may be for coming in contact with HIV or contracting HIV,” said Josh Riley, director of community commitment at the District’s nonprofit community health center Whitman-Walker.
Approximately 15,200 individuals are living with diagnosed HIV in the District, according to AIDSVu, an interactive online map illustrating the prevalence of HIV in the United States.
Of District residents with HIV, 73 percent are men and 27 percent are women. Approximately 72 percent are black, 7 percent are Hispanic/Latino, and 17 percent are white.
In 2015 — the most recent year that statistics are available — there were 383 new cases, while in 2014, there were 113 deaths.
The rate of black males living with an HIV diagnosis stands at 2.8 times that of white males while the rate of Hispanic/Latino males living with the illness is 1.5 times that of white males, according to AIDSVu.
The rate of black females living with an HIV diagnosis is 27.5 times that of white females and the rate of Hispanic/Latina females living with an HIV diagnosis is 5.8 times that of white females.
For males living with HIV, 11.6 percent contracted the disease through injection drug use while 68.6 percent were infected through male-to-male sexual contact.
Still, 12.7 percent of males with HIV contracted the illness through heterosexual contact and 6.4 percent were diagnosed after male-to-male sexual contact that included the injection of drugs, statistics revealed.
Approximately 26.6 percent of women living with HIV in the District contracted the illness through injection drug use and 71.4 percent were diagnosed as a result of heterosexual contact.
Two percent of women with HIV and slightly less than 1 percent of men contracted the illness through blood transfusion, perinatal exposure and other risk factors, according to AIDSVu statistics.
Of all new diagnosis, 81.3 percent of men were stricken because of male-to-male sexual contact; 11.1 percent after heterosexual contact; 3.9 percent following injection drug use; 3.3 percent after male-to-male sexual contact that included injection drug use.
For females who were newly diagnosed, 17.1 percent contracted HIV through injection drug use and 82.9 percent through heterosexual contact.
Funding for the disease topped $92 million in 2015 and, because the bulk of it came through the private Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program and the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, any changes to the Affordable Care Act aren’t expected to affect the bottom line.
In 2016, District officials distributed more than 6 million male and female condoms and removed over 800,000 needles from city streets.
The District’s needle-exchange program helped to reduce the number of HIV cases to just seven last year.
Also in 2016, District officials started the country’s first campaign to encourage black women to begin taking PrEP, a drug that greatly reduces the risk of getting HIV.
Bowser and the Health Department also introduced a “YOU are the solution” campaign that will see advertisements on buses and in other locations to remind residents to take their medication regularly to avoid transmitting HIV.
In a plan called “90/90/90/50,” city officials are calling for having 90 percent of HIV-positive District residents aware of their status; 90 percent of those who have been diagnosed receiving treatment; and 90 percent of those in treatment reaching viral-load suppression by 2020.
Ultimately, that would result in a 50 percent decrease from the number of new cases seen in 2015.
Overall, statistics show that 1.1 million individuals in the U.S. have HIV. The District still has the highest rate of infections, followed by Maryland, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, New York, Texas, New Jersey, Mississippi, South Carolina, North Carolina, Delaware and Alabama.
“There are things that D.C. has done that are unique and ahead of the curve,” Greg Millet, a vice president at amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, told the Pew Charitable Trust. “All of this is part of a good news story for what’s happening in the rest of the country.”