Crisis (Not Quite) Averted
Thank you for John Callaghan’s “HIV & AIDS: A Crisis On Pause.” The District of Columbia has made tremendous progress in recent years to combat the HIV epidemic in the city, thanks to smart, evidenced-based policies. These include efforts that range from improving sexual health education and resources to clinical approaches like expanding access to the pre-exposure pill Truvada. The most significant of these efforts, however, was the institution of the DC Needle Exchange Program (DC NEX). After Congress ended its prohibition on this lifesaving policy, the city has seen a 70 percent drop in new HIV infections since 2008. I only wish this had happened sooner.
However, make no mistake: The District is still in the midst of an HIV epidemic, one that disproportionately impacts its black residents. Efforts to continue the decline in new cases are stalled. Worse, the city risks backsliding on that progress. Recently, it has seen an alarming increase in the number of new HIV cases in younger demographics. According to DC Appleseed’s [a nonprofit working to solve problems for those who live and work in the National Capital area] 2018 progress report on DC’s plan to end the HIV epidemic, young people aged 13 to 29 make up the highest percentage of new cases in a decade, at 41 percent. As the chairperson for the Committee on Education, I find this troubling. I have engaged education agencies to see how to improve comprehensive sex-ed to include more in-depth information on preventing the transmission of HIV to reverse this trend.
There is certainly more city officials can do to prevent new infections among the most vulnerable in our communities. Last year, the DC Council passed legislation that eliminates the arbitrary limit on where needle exchange programs can operate in the city. However, it did not include my proposals to decriminalize possession of drug paraphernalia, including syringes, for personal use. This forward-thinking approach might help continue important progress in stopping the spread of HIV.
Councilmember At-Large, Council of the District of Columbia
Chairperson, Committee on Education