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Report Finds Major Flaws in Washington, DC’s Handling of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic

A recently released report finds that Washington, DC is failing both in its efforts to prevent new HIV infections and its attempts to treat those living with HIV/AIDS in the city. The report, by the DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice in conjunction with the law firm Hogan & Hartson L.L.P, is titled HIV/AIDS in the Nation’s Capital: Improving the District of Columbia ‘s Response to a Public Health Crisis. The report’s scathing indictment of the city’s effort begins by plainly stating that “the District of Columbia’s response to the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) epidemic lags far behind that of many other cities across the nation. According to a high-ranking District official, the District is in some respects 10 to 15 years behind where it should be in mounting a concerted, effective response to the disease. Even though many individuals, government officials, and nonprofit organizations have devoted considerable time and resources to addressing HIV/AIDS in the District, the disease continues to devastate District residents.”1

The report explains “the District’s annual rate of new AIDS cases is over 10 times the national average and is believed now to be the highest of any major U.S. city.”2 In real numbers, nearly one out of every 50 District residents is living with AIDS. It is important to note that this does not capture the full extent of the epidemic in the city as the District of Columbia fails to track individuals who are living with HIV but have not developed full blown AIDS. Frighteningly, public health officials working in the District of Columbia estimate that one out of every 20 District residents is infected with HIV. In addition, many of these individuals do not know they are infected and may be infecting others.3

The report cites four main areas of concern:

  1. The District is not systematically collecting and analyzing data about the epidemic, thereby hindering the planning of prevention and care efforts;
  2. the District is not sufficiently coordinating and supervising the work of government agencies and private organizations that provide services to individuals living with HIV/AIDS;
  3. the District needs to improve prevention efforts; and
  4. the services offered by the District are insufficient for certain populations, including youth in public schools, drug users, and the incarcerated.4

The report also focuses on several high-risk populations in the District, including young people. Between 1990 and 2002, there were 72 cases of AIDS among youth ages 13 – 19.5 Although this number has remained stable over the past five years, the report cautions that this may be misleading due to the absence of information regarding the number of young people living with HIV. The report also points to the high number of 20 – 24 year-olds who are living with AIDS as a population that was infected with HIV at a younger age, but were not tracked. The report estimates that at least 2,200 youth are infected in the greater Washington, DC area.

In order to combat, HIV infection among youth, the report recommends that:

•  The Board of Education and the District of Columbia Public Schools (DCPS) should develop content standards regarding HIV/AIDS education to be implemented throughout the system and then make sure that all school staff are trained in these regulations;

•  the District should ensure that these standards are evaluated in all schools;

•  the District should improve the collection of data regarding HIV/AIDS education and services in DCPS to help ensure that all schools have appropriate education and services available;

•  DCPS should better align the responsibilities of its offices that coordinate health policy and health education; and

•  the Board of Education should establish an advisory council on student and school health.6

In reaction to HIV/AIDS in the Nation’s Capital , District of Columbia Mayor Anthony Williams promised personal involvement by stating that he would not only form a taskforce to deal with all of the recommendations in the report, but that he would personally chair the taskforce.7

Advocates praised the report. Adam Tenner, executive director of Metro Teen AIDS, stated “the report is a timely shot in the arm for the growing awareness of system problems facing HIV services in the District. For Metro Teen AIDS, the recommendations concerning youth are in line with our own goals. We are excited that both the Mayor and the Superintendent are on board to make these necessary changes.”

SIECUS ‘ vice president for public policy, William Smith , who also serves on the board of Metro TeenAIDS, praised the report. “The general state of sexuality education in the District’s schools, including HIV/AIDS education, is quite tragic and this report will help move us forward in a very public way,” Smith said.


  1. HIV/AIDS in the Nation’s Capital: Improving the District of Columbia ‘s Response to a Public Health Crisis ( Washington , DC : DC Appleseed Center, August 2005), 2, accessed online 10 August 2005, <>.
  2. Ibid., emphasis in the original.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. District of Columbia Department of Health, The HIV/AIDS Epidemiologic Profile for the District of Columbia (December 2003), 32-33, accessed online 10 August 2005, <>.
  6. HIV/AIDS in the Nation’s Capital, 85.
  7. Eric M. Weiss and Theola S. Labbe, “Williams Vows to Have Hand in AIDS Reform:
    Spurred by Report Faulting Agency, Mayor to Lead Task Force for Improving Services,” The Washington Post, 11 August 2005, B2.