Thursday, April 23, 2009

Some humbling statistics from my hometown: DC highest HIV rate in nation

As a lifelong Washingtonian (having been born in Crystal City), there is no lack of material for me be proud of. We believe that the whole world revolves around our demure, yet dignified, city, and I am constantly finding myself holding my nose up when surrounded by the less politically cognizant. Sometimes the Redskins have a pretty good season too..

However, while doing reading for my New and Hot, I stumbled across some surprising news in the New York Times that hit quite close to home (literally): Washington D.C. has the highest rate of HIV/AIDS in the country (I always assumed it was San Francisco). According to the D.C. 2007 Annual AIDS Report, 1 in 50 D.C. residents are living with HIV/AIDS; compare that with 1 in 7000 nationwide. Heterosexual transmission, especially among adolescents, is increasing, underscoring the need for for effective sex education. Meanwhile, MTC (mother-to-child) transmission has increased as well, which is especially disconcerting considering that these cases are easily preventable with routine testing and drugs. Even though blacks account for 51% of the DC population, of the 12,400 PLWHA (people living with HIV/AIDS), 81% are black.

Concurrently in the Times, Tom Friedman laments racial disparity in our schools and economy (link). The disproportionate infection rate among blacks is a sad and brutal reminder that in a city with the most powerful people in the country, racial inequality still plagues its neighborhoods, and the consequence is life or death. It also warns that the problem is not as easy to solve as the superficial "Free Condoms for Everyone!" approach, but that much deeper social issues need to be resolved in order to truly address HIV/AIDS.

Changes need to happen and they need to happen fast. Fortunately, HIV/AIDS has become a more pressing item on the political agenda; as Elizabeth brought up, Obama's first days brought some sorely needed change to this country's AIDS policy, including allowing federal funding for clean needle programs and comprehensive sex education. We will see if America can clean up its act -- for my hometown and for America, I will keep my fingers crossed.

--Crystal Zheng

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