In 2015, during the first year of office for Mayor Muriel E. Bowser, there were 400 new cases of HIV. To stop the spread of the disease, Bowser set a goal to reduce the number in half by 2020.
According to the latest information, there are still some challenges it has to overcome. The district had 368 new HIV cases for 2017, and the long-term trend shows a steady drop in the number of new infections.
Michael Kharfen, with D.C. Department of Health, described this as a pause of many years of continuous drops. However, it does highlight the issue that what officials are doing is working and must be stepped up further.
The new HIV infections occurred in gay and bisexual men and Latinos with 41 percent of the infections being seen in young people. That’s the highest amount in 10 years.
In 2017, 150 people ages 13 to 29 were told they were HIV positive, which is an increase from 2016’s 134.
The city’s health officials are laying out new steps to highlight an HIV-prevention drug – Pre-exposure prophylaxis. The PrEP pill is taking daily and can decrease the chances of infection by over 90 percent.
Officials were also pushing the drug toward the black women and gay men group, which are more likely to contract HIV. In 2017, nearly 1,700 residents were given the drug. The FDA recently agreed that the drug, also called Truvada, could be given to teenagers 15 and older.
In the latest school year, the confidential STD screening programs at area high schools will give students information about the drug. $300,000 has been set aside to help adolescents pay for the drug. Although health insurances do cover it, it’s not always easy to attain.
Kharfen said since most children are under their parents’ insurance plan, it could be revealing a private part of themselves.
While HIV infections have declined, other STDs are increasing.
District health officials attribute the higher numbers to better screening. Kharfen said the efforts to get people to use the PrEP drug is leading to more testing and more positive diagnosis for other STIs.
He said it was time to change how to communicate with young people about their sexual choices but in a positive way.
Written by Mark Riegel, MD
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