Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Really Incredible Day


Wish I had more time to write a blog post but things are really amazing these days. Yesterday I got arrested on K Street protesting political corruption. Also, I got an article I wrote on World AIDS Day published on the Huffington Post. Check it out below:

Secretary of Health Calls for Local-Global Partnerships to End AIDS
Published December 7, 2011 in the Huffington Post.

Last Thursday was World AIDS Day, the 30th anniversary of the discovery of AIDS, and a major milestone in the fight against the epidemic. On a cool winter's night in our nation's capital with the trains of Union Station rumbling under their feet, a packed house of public health activists and policy makers came together to celebrate progress and remember those who have died of AIDS related diseases.

That morning President Obama, joined by former Presidents Clinton and Bush, pledged millions of dollars for international and domestic HIV prevention and treatment.

The message was clear: the value and impact of prevention and treatment has been proven, and now we can get to zero new infections and zero deaths. This is a paradigm shift in how the public health community talks and thinks about the HIV epidemic. It is difficult task with over 1.7 million people living with HIV in the U.S. and over 30 million in the world. The domestic and international AIDS research and activism must "join forces," according to Deborah von Zinkernagel of the President's Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief, to achieve an "AIDS free generation."

Keynote speaker, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Kathleen Sebelius praised PEPFAR and the Affordable Care Act and was determined to create local, national and global partnerships to "get to zero." As Washington squabbles over taxes and the deficit, and the Occupy movement calls for the 99 percent to fight for an end to corporate money in politics and just democracy, it was well-received to hear Sebelius declare "HIV is no place for partisanship."

In July 2012 the International AIDS Conference will be coming to the U.S. for the first time in 30 years. Washington, D.C., the U.S. city with the highest AIDS case rate, will be the host for the conference and George Kerr, executive director of the harm reduction center START at Westminister, is the co-chair of event coordination for the D.C. Community Coalition.

The Coalition presented its AIDS 2012 policy platform, which called for political leadership and research so that D.C. can gain real ground in the local fight against HIV surrounding the conference. The U.S. was barred from hosting the international AIDS conference until 2012 because of its policy of refusing to grant visas to people who were HIV positive. The shift in that policy is a sign of hope that the United States' has renewed its commitment to eradication of the epidemic.

With the giant patches of the AIDS quilt as a backdrop; the important decision-makers on the dais reaffirmed the crowd's feeling that we are gaining ground on the epidemic.

The Hope for Africa Children's Choir from Mukono, Uganda gave a beautiful performance with very frank language about the effects of AIDS that brought everyone to their feet.

The evening closed with a challenge from Kerr "we now know how to end AIDS: Will we?"

Also had a cool article on HIV and inequality published in the Occupied Washington Times. Stay tuned for more action.

Inequality Fuels D.C. HIV Epidemic
Published November 23, 2011 in the Occupied Washington Times

The explosion of the HIV epidemic over the last three decades has coincided with the largest widening of the class gap since the Great Depression. The top one percent of Americans now own over a third of the wealth in this country, and high HIV rates are strongly correlated with the poverty of the working class. More than a disease, Washington D.C.’s HIV epidemic represents glaring social and economic disparities in the city and the government’s ineffectiveness at remedying them.
“The socioeconomic circumstances of persons … strongly influences their health,” the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2009.

In D.C., race and income correlate strongly with HIV. The groups with the highest HIV rates in the city are African-Americans, Latinos, intravenous drug users and men who have sex with men. Barriers to healthcare for these communities include affordable housing, income inequality, concerns about immigration status, discrimination, and social stigma.

In 2008, according to the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, African-American households had a median annual income of $39,200 compared to $107,600 for white households in the city. At least three out of every four D.C. residents with HIV are African American, and 4.7 percent of Washington’s African-American population is living with HIV.

Black males in D.C. are among the most affected people, with an HIV rate of seven percent.
D.C. has a higher HIV rate than any other American city, according to a 2007 report by the city government. About 3 percent of Washingtonians have HIV/AIDS, significantly higher than the 1 percent needed to qualify as an epidemic. Almost half are unaware of it.

The challenges in fighting HIV here are also political. “D.C.’s lack of self-determination is central to any understanding of why social issues in D.C. are so bad,” said Dany Sigwalt, of the Washington Peace Center. City officials face obstacles in local governing, as D.C. laws and budgets need to be approved by Congress.

In the 1980’s, when the HIV epidemic was first hitting major urban areas, many cities were able to institute needle exchange programs to reduce the spread of infection by providing safe needles to drug users in exchange for used ones. Although there was city-wide support for a similar city-funded project in the District, according to Sigwalt, Congress refused to pass D.C. legislation on the matter. Washington is the only American city prevented by Congress from using local tax money to fund needle exchange programs.

To make matters worse, D.C.’s AIDS prevention office has seen more than a dozen directors come and go over the last two decades.

People with HIV and AIDS are protected by the American Disabilities Act, which guards them from discrimination in the workplace. Still, said Chip Lewis, Deputy Director of Communications at Whitman-Walker Clinic, the high rate of poverty among HIV positive communities contributes to the stigmatization of the disease while reducing access to care. Inadequate employment, affordable housing, public transportation, childcare, and needle exchange funding, along with homelessness and illiteracy, all counteract the effectiveness of the testing and prevention programs provided by the city.

Mobile testing units, increased contraception distribution, and dedicated case management have proven to lower incidence and increase early detection of the virus. Lewis said that late diagnosis leads to “salvage therapy” which makes healthy and productive lives more difficult.
Those who want to help combat HIV in Washington can find a broad range of opportunities. The Whitman-Walker Clinic encourages people to get tested, talk about the issue and protect themselves during sexual activity.

From July 22-27 2012, Washington D.C. will host the 29th annual International AIDS Conference. This will be an opportunity for the city to showcase its successes and call attention to its needs, to learn from the international community, highlight the root causes of the epidemic and build the social and political will to make proactive policy changes in our city.

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