At a press conference on Tuesday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser trumpeted the good news that, for the sixth year in a row, the number of new HIV infections diagnosed in the District decreased. We were proud to join our partners in the fight against AIDS in the District—the Mayor, Department of Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, and Whitman-Walker Health Executive Director Don Blanchon—to announce the progress that has been made and the beginning of a new effort to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic that remains in D.C.
When our Executive Director Walter Smith took the podium, he delivered a statement that has been at the heart of DC Appleseed’s HIV/AIDS work over the last 10 years: “It is great that we have only 553 new infections. It is terrible that we still have 553 new infections.”
About 2.5% of the District’s population is living with HIV/AIDS. Anything above 1% is considered an epidemic. To address this, Mayor Bowser and Dr. Nesbitt announced a partnership with DC Appleseed to develop a plan to end the epidemic in D.C. This is a continuation of the decade of work we have done in partnership with the last four mayoral administrations, starting when we released a major report in 2005 and followed by yearly report cards to monitor the progress on these initial recommendations. Through last year we continued to suggest improvements across sectors and agencies, and, because of our collaboration with the Mayor and executive agencies, we have seen great improvement in the District’s surveillance, testing, treatment, education, and prevention efforts.
But more needs to be done, so with support from the Washington AIDS Partnership, we believe the time is right to up the ante and develop a plan to “End the Epidemic.” This new goal was inspired by global organizations and other U.S. jurisdictions—including New York state, San Francisco, and Washington state—undertaking similar blueprints. Each plan emphasizes the importance of identifying new HIV infections, linking people to care, and retaining people living with HIV/AIDS in care to reach viral suppression. Some of these plans incorporate cutting-edge practices and paradigms, such as expanding access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and subsidizing housing to stabilize health.
The goals that the Mayor announced on Tuesday mirror the goals other plans have made: She said that by 2020 in the District, 90% of HIV-positive residents should know their status, 90% should be linked to care, and 90% of those who are HIV-positive should have achieved viral-load suppression. This last point is important because those with a reduced viral load are much less likely to pass the virus to others. And the Mayor announced a goal of reducing the number of new HIV infections in the District by half by 2020.
Over the next several months, we will continue to consult and research best practices, epidemiological and financial modeling, service gaps and needs in the District, and the policy landscape, among other elements of a plan to end the epidemic. We are excited that we will have an opportunity to develop this plan in collaboration with the Department of Health and our community partners.
Our work over the last ten years has led to major improvements in the District’s response to the HIV epidemic. Now we will go even further and develop a plan to end the epidemic. It is an ambitious goal, but it is one that we can achieve. And it is a goal that we must achieve.
For more on this week’s announcement:
D.C. HIV/AIDS Rate Drops for 6th Straight Year by Tom Sherwood, NBC Washington
Report Shows New HIV Cases Continue to Fall in D.C. by Michael K. Lavers, Washington Blade
D.C. Again Shows Gains In Fight Against HIV, But Struggles To Reach Youth by Ashley Dejean, WAMU 88.5