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Using an incident that has become synonymous with government indifference to catastrophe, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), unveiled a print ad campaign with the slogan "AIDS is DC's Katrina," today.
The print campaign will feature a photo of former President George W. Bush looking out the window of Air Force One at the devastation and aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Across the bottom is a close-up photo of a seemingly homeless person's pair of hands holding tightly onto a piece of a battered corrugated cardboard with the campaign's slogan.
According to the 2008 epidemiology report released by DCs health officials this March, at least 3 percent of the population of the district has HIV or AIDS.
"Our rates are higher than West Africa," said Shannon L. Hader, director of the District's HIV/AIDS Administration, told the Washington Post upon release of the data. "They're on par with Uganda and some parts of Kenya."
"We have every mode of transmission going up, all on the rise, and we have to deal with them," Hader said.
The infection is not distributed evenly by race. More than three-quarters - 76 percent - of the HIV infected are black. According to the study more than 4 percent of blacks in the city are known to have HIV, along with almost 2 percent of Latinos and 1.4 percent of whites. Most of those infected - 70 percent - are men and 70 percent are age 40 and older.
Health experts believe that the aging of the infected population is due to more HIV-infected patients getting control over their disease through improved therapy. Early detection through STD testing has also helped because treatment is more effective when started early.
According to the AHF, it is likely that the 3 percent figure underestimates the problem and the true figure, may be closer to 5 percent of the population.
The CDC says that 0.7 percent of the national population is living with HIV or AIDS, meaning DC has anywhere between four and seven times the national rate of infection. However, the rate of new infections in the U.S. has climbed since recent years, something Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Healthcare Foundation, attributes to "the failure of our U.S. HIV prevention efforts."
"The fact that Washington DC's HIV prevalence rate is now higher than some hard-hit African countries is an indictment of how the CDC has failed to lead in HIV prevention efforts," Weinstein said. "When this news about Washington's HIV rate first broke in March, President Obama remained silent. Despite his silence on AIDS to date, we hope this ad will prod President Obama to act forcefully on AIDS, and we remain hopeful he will be the change that we can believe in - and urgently need - on AIDS."
In response to the rise in HIV infection rates, the CDC revised guidelines for HIV testing in September of 2006. These revised guidelines recommend HIV testing for all people ages 13-64 when in routine healthcare settings such as emergency units and community clinics. However, nearly three years later, these testing guidelines have not been widely implemented and many fend for themselves in getting HIV tests.
While HIV gets the most attention, the rates of other STDs have been rising across the nation as well. The CDC reported in January that both chlamydia and syphilis were on the rise. In 2007, the CDC got 1.1 million reports of sexually transmitted chlamydia, making it the largest number of cases ever reported to the CDC for any condition according to the report.
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