HIV-AIDS Rates Higher in D.C. Than West Africa

A new report reveals "very depressing" news that every mode of transmission of HIV in Washington, D.C., has increased, and overall the HIV and AIDS rates in the nation's capital are higher than some countries in Africa.

"Our rates are higher than West Africa," said Shannon Hader, the director of D.C. HIV/AIDS Administration, to The Washington Post.

"They're on par with Uganda and some parts of Kenya," said Hader, who previously spearheaded the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's work in Zimbabwe.

According to the 2008 epidemiology report by the D.C. HIV/AIDS Administration, which The Washington Post obtained an early copy of, at least three percent of Washington, D.C., residents are living with HIV or AIDS.

Any disease that infects more than one percent of the population is considered a "generalized and severe" epidemic.

The report, which is officially being released Monday by D.C. health officials, warns that the true number of infected residents is "certainly higher." Moreover, the disease is affecting every race and sex, although the black and gay populations are still disproportionately affected.

Since 2006, the number of HIV and AIDS cases has increased 22 percent to 15,120 people. Also, nearly 1 in 10 D.C. residents between the ages of 40 and 49 are living with the HIV virus.

Black men have the highest infection rate at nearly seven percent. Overall, more than four percent of blacks in the city are known to have HIV, followed by nearly two percent of Latinos and 1.4 percent of whites.

Another way of looking at the data is that nearly 80 percent of D.C. residents living with the HIV virus are black.

"This is very, very depressing news, especially considering HIV's profound impact on minority communities," said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Health's program on infectious diseases. "And remember: The city's numbers are just based on people who've gotten tested."

The report noted that transmission of the virus occurs mostly through male-male sexual intercourse, followed by heterosexual transmission and injection-type drug use.

In recent years, the HIV/AIDS epidemic has increasingly been an important issue for churches and Christian organizations. Some of the largest and most influential megachurches in the United States are at the forefront of the fight against HIV/AIDS, calling on churches around the world to be engaged with prevention as well as caring for people already infected with the virus.

The Rev. Rick Warren and his wife, Kay Warren, of Saddleback Church in Southern California, for instance, are outspoken and active advocates who have joined local African church efforts as well as those of government and secular non-governmental organizations.

Similarly, the Rev. Bill Hybels and his wife, Lynne Hybels, of Willow Creek Church outside of Chicago have also been highly involved in the church campaign to care for those living with the HIV virus and to eliminate the stigma associated with the disease.

In another sign of the religious community's growing concern for the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the first African clergy to publicly reveal his HIV-positive status was selected to receive this year's Niwano Peace Prize - an award comparable to the Nobel Peace Prize in the religious community.

Ugandan Anglican priest the Rev. Canon Gideon Byamugisha was named the 2009 Niwano Peace Prize winner in February. He has been a tireless advocate in getting religious people more involved in the AIDS fight and has called on the Church to break down the stigma associated with the disease.

Byamugisha founded the African Network of Religious Leaders Living with or Personally Affected by HIV or AIDS (ANERELA+) in 2003.

There are an estimated 33 million people living with HIV/AIDS in 2007, according to the 2008 UNAIDS/WHO report. Since 1981, more than 25 million people have died of AIDS. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that some 1.1 million people in the United States are living with HIV or AIDS.

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