LaQuandra Nesbitt
**FILE** LaQuandra Nesbitt (Shevry Lassiter/The Washington Informer)

The District’s HIV rate has fallen tremendously over the years since it emerged as an epidemic in the late 1980s and efforts by the city government are ongoing to minimize its spread, especially in the age of the coronavirus.

On Aug. 20, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, D.C. Department of Health Director Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt and other city leaders released its annual “The District of Columbia Department of Health HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD and TB Administration Report” revealing the number of new HIV cases in the city has decreased by the widest margin in the past five years. The dip, the report said in its introduction, had been “proving key prevention and treatment strategies are working.” The report reached its conclusions based on data collected during 2019. Bowser expressed satisfaction with the report.

“Our partnerships with the community have continued to yield promising results to both stem and reduce new HIV cases, while also delivering better and more efficient treatment to residents living with HIV,” the mayor said. “Our goal of ending the HIV epidemic in D.C. is not yet done, and we will continue to work to ensure equity in services, reduce stigma as an access barrier, make testing easier, support needle exchange and keep people HIV negative.”

Among the report’s findings:

– there are 12,408 current District residents or 1.8 percent of the population living with HIV;

– newly diagnosed cases decreased to 282 in 2019, a decline of 61 percent from 721 during 2011 and a 79 percent fall of 1,374 in 2007;

– Blacks and Latinos with HIV exceeded one percent of their respective populations, with Blacks at 2.8 percent;

– more than half of District residents living with HIV are 50 years-old and older and;

– men who have sex with men and heterosexual contact are the two leading modes of transmission among new cases.

The report said of District residents, 0.1 percent of White women are infected with HIV in contrast 1.7 percent and 4.0 percent of Black females and males, respectively, are suffering from the disease. Plus, the report said among those newly diagnosed with the virus, 59 percent of cases had been virally suppressed in 90 days, meaning it couldn’t be spread. Nesbitt noted the decline in infections from needle exchanges, calling that momentous.

“That is a significant achievement,” she said. “And so, it should not be understated, the impact that needle exchange programs and syringe services programs can have on reducing the transmission of HIV in communities.”

In response to HIV concerns, the report said the District government distributed more than 4.6 million male and female condoms in 2019, removed 478,038 needles from the street through the D.C. needle exchange program, provided more than 5,000 sexually transmitted disease (STD) tests for young people through school-based and community STD screenings last year and provided HIV medical care and support service to more than 6,500 people through the Ryan White program the past year. The anti-HIV efforts of the Bowser administration are part of the “90/90/90/50 Plan to End the HIV Epidemic in the District by 2020” announced in 2016 which aspires to 90 percent of residents knowing their HIV status, 90 percent of residents living with HIV are in treatment, 90 percent of those living with HIV are trending toward viral suppression and 50 percent reduction in new cases by the end of this year.

Naseema Shafi, the president and CEO of the Whitman-Walker Health, told WJLA-TV (Channel 7) on Aug. 20 she is grateful for the declining HIV numbers, but she said a lot of work still needs to be done. Shafi also said she has noticed some long-term clients have been “retraumatized” by COVID-19. Nesbitt said she too has noticed the coronavirus’s effect on HIV-infected residents psychologically.

“D.C. Health recognizes that the COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way D.C. residents obtain medical care and other services,” Nesbitt said. “We are expanding telehealth options and have home-based testing to give residents the opportunity to take charge of their health.”

James Wright Jr.

James Wright Jr. is the D.C. political reporter for the Washington Informer Newspaper. He has worked for the Washington AFRO-American Newspaper as a reporter, city editor and freelance writer and The Washington...

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