D.C. officials are celebrating a continuing decline in the city’s HIV/AIDS rate.
According to a new report from the D.C. Department of Health, the number of new HIV cases in the city decreased by 46 percent from 2007 to 2011, falling from 1,333 to 718.
"I think we’re turning a corner," said Mayor Vince Gray at a press conference announcing the new numbers.
He said that the city’s aggressive outreach programs and its ability to find residents who are HIV-positive and connect them to necessary health services means that not only are fewer people getting the disease, but those that have it are living longer.
"HIV and AIDS are no longer a death sentence," Gray said. "The quality of life that people can experience who are living with AIDS is quite phenomenal by comparison to the past, when people who contracted full-blown AIDS were subject to some pretty dire circumstances."
He said that in 2011, 80 percent of residents diagnosed with HIV were connected to necessary care within three months, up from 50 percent in 2008.
That, say city officials, is responsible for the higher number of residents that live with the disease. The number of HIV-positive residents living with the disease has increased from 2007 to 2011, rising from 12,635 to 15,056.
Officials with the Department of Health said D.C. has increased the number of tests it conducts to 138,000 in 2012, up from 43,000 in 2007, handed out 5.6 million male and female condoms, and exchanged over half-a-million needles used for intravenous drugs. The number of HIV cases stemming from dirty needles fell by 80 percent from 2007 to 2011.
D.C. isn’t in the clear yet, though — 2.4 percent of the city’s population is living with HIV (in 2010 it was 2.7 percent), well above the one percent threshold set by the World Health Organization for a generalized epidemic. Additionally, the HIV epidemic is hitting black residents much harder; 3.7 percent of black residents have the disease, compared to 1.5 percent of Hispanics and 1.1 percent of whites.
Additionally, some residents are still unaware that they have the disease. A new study by the Department of Health of men who have sex with other men — a leading cause of transmission — finds that 23 percent are unaware of their HIV-positive status.
Still, the news has city officials, health advocates and patients optimistic. Guy Jenkins, who was diagnosed when he was 18, says that upon moving to D.C. in 2008, he was connected to services he needed at the Whitman-Walker Health on 14th Street NW.
"Even if you are positive, life still goes on. It doesn’t stop when you’re diagnosed," he said. "At my diagnosis at 18 I was told I would die in two years, but I’m 32, married with two kids, so life does move on."