Washington, D.C., HIV Testing Campaign Poorly Planned, Lacking in Results, Report Says
Washington, D.C.'s citywide HIV testing campaign has been poorly planned and is lacking in results, according to a report by the DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, the Washington Post reports (Levine, Washington Post, 12/16). District of Columbia health officials and HIV/AIDS advocates in June launched the campaign titled, "Come Together D.C., Get Screened for HIV," which emphasizes the importance of HIV testing. The campaign aims to reach 400,000 men and women ages 14 to 84 in the District. According to statistics presented at the Mayor's Task Force on HIV/AIDS, which convened for the first time in June, up to 25,000 people, or more than 4% of all residents, in the district might be HIV-positive. District health officials ordered 80,000 rapid HIV tests for the campaign, which organizers plan to distribute at no cost to hospital emergency departments, private physician offices, community health programs, detoxification centers and substance use, and sexually transmitted infection treatment clinics (Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, 8/4). According to the report -- which gave the city grades ranging from B+ to D+ in more than one dozen categories, including syringe-exchange programs and grant monitoring -- fewer than 20,000 District residents have received HIV tests since the campaign began. In addition, some of the rapid HIV tests were not distributed before their expiration date and some were given to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Post reports. The report also found that:
- The city's Administration for HIV Policy and Programs has not created a strategy to maintain widespread testing;
- There is not a plan in place to guarantee that people who test HIV-positive will receive help;
- HIV tests are not required for all people visiting the District's tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections clinic;
- The mayor and other city leaders are not visibly involved in the fight against HIV/AIDS; and
- The city's public school system does not have an HIV/AIDS curriculum.
In addition, there were a number of positive findings, including that the city's HIV/AIDS administration has improved HIV/AIDS surveillance and that the District's corrections department has increased HIV testing.
Next Steps, Reaction
"DC Appleseed has both significant hopes about the future of the District's response to HIV/AIDS -- and significant concerns," the report says, adding "Unless the new administration gives HIV/AIDS the required attention at the highest levels, improvement will be difficult." The HIV/AIDS administration has "done a lot here," Marsha Martin, director of the district's HIV/AIDS administration, said. According to Martin, the goal of the campaign is to "raise the public health consciousness of a community about a virus," and criticism of the effort is "off base." The number of HIV tests that the city is administering is "double, triple at a minimum what we've done in previous years," Martin said. "We know there is a long way to go," Vincent Morris, a spokesperson for Mayor Anthony Williams, said, adding, "[W]e won't give up until we reverse" the HIV infection trend "and get more District residents tested, treated and educated about the terrible toll that AIDS can leave on people" (Washington Post, 12/16).
The report is available online.