15,120 people over the age of 12 in the District of Columbia—3 percent of the city’s total population—are HIV/AIDS positive, according to a study released by the D.C. Department of Health on Monday. D.C.’s HIV rate, which is comparable to that of Uganda and some parts of Kenya, far outpaces the 1 percent infection rate that the Center for Disease Prevention and Control says qualifies as a generalized and severe epidemic.
Striking as the numbers in the report are, many experts believe they understate the infection rate.
“By our best estimates, we figure at least half of people with HIV/AIDS don’t know their status, which would put the AIDS rate at about 6 percent,” Justin Goforth, Director of Medical Adherence and Community Health at the Whitman-Walker Clinic, said.
The study was released along with a companion report on the behavior of heterosexuals who are at high risk of contracting HIV. According to the report, approximately half of the heterosexuals in committed relationships surveyed believed their partners were sleeping with other people, yet 70 percent of them continued to engage in unprotected sex.
Mary Young, an assistant professor at the Georgetown University Department of Infectious Diseases, said the best way to stop the spread of the virus is to test more D.C. residents. She said education and behavioral change hasn’t worked, and people should be tested as part of their routine medical care.
According to Goforth, the D.C. HIV/AIDS Administration was in poor shape four years ago, but things are looking up.
“It was very frustrating as a nonprofit, not being able to get paid in a timely manner,” he said.
“I worked in nonprofits that actually went under because of that. Compared to those days, the D.C. HIV/AIDS Administration has improved tremendously…. I’m hopeful about the direction that it’s going.”