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Commentary With Walter Smith: D.C.'s HIV/AIDS Efforts

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The Washington Post recently highlighted what are characterized as serious deficiencies in the way the District of Columbia spends taxpayer money for the treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS. But commentator Walter Smith says it's important to note that the city's efforts against HIV/AIDS are not in complete disarray. Smith is the Executive Director of DC Appleseed.

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SCRIPT:

It's no secret that the district's efforts addressing the HIV/AIDS epidemic have been subject to serious deficiencies. D.C. Appleseed has also repeatedly pointed out such problems.

In fact, in 2005, D.C. Appleseed published a major report documenting a number of those deficiencies and making specific recommendations for overcoming them.

We found no coordination of HIV prevention efforts across the government, an absence of city leadership making the epidemic a top health priority, insufficient services for the most vulnerable populations: youth, drug users, and the incarcerated, and a complete failure to gather data that would track the epidemic and permit the effective targeting of resources to address it.

Today, as D.C. Appleseed's periodic report cards have shown, important progress has been made on a number of these fronts.

First, the city's HIV/AIDS strategy is now driven by data. The district and George Washington University's School of Public Health have joined forces to create a top-notch HIV/AIDS data collection program. Those data show that the city's HIV/AIDS cases are staggeringly high, but at least we now know what we face and where our efforts need to be focused.

Second, the district has dramatically improved its testing for HIV/AIDS. In fact, the number of tests conducted in the district is exceeded only by two huge jurisdictions: Florida and New York City.

Third, the needs of some of the most at-risk populations are being better addressed. The D.C. jail is routinely cited as a national leader in HIV testing and support for those who test positive.

The D.C. Public Schools have instituted a health curriculum instituted that includes age-appropriate lessons on HIV/AIDS. And the overturning of the needle exchange ban on the Hill has allowed the city to significantly increase its efforts at reducing HIV/AIDS among drug users.

Finally, general condom distribution in the district has dramatically expanded, from a little over 100,000 in 2006 to nearly 3 million in 2009.

It will take many years for these and other efforts to produce a turn-around in our HIV/AIDS epidemic. And there is no question that there will be other failures along the way. But it would be unfair to the district and to the many individuals and non-profits working in the community to let those failures suggest to the public that the district's response to the epidemic is in complete chaos.

It is not.

Progress is being made.

But much, much more remains to be done.

I'm Walter Smith.

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