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HIV/AIDS In Washington, DC - 2002-10-18

Washington DC is one of the hardest hit cities in the United States when it comes to HIV/AIDS. According to Michael Cover, the associate executive director for public affairs at the Whitman-Walker Clinic, the city's “AIDS rate is twelve times the national average, which is the highest in the country. We’ve also got one of the highest rates of new HIV infections.”

He says, “it’s really inexcusable that the nation’s capital, the capital of the free world, is under such an incredibly terrible AIDS epidemic.” He blames that on a public health care system, which he says, is in “shambles.”

He says HIV/AIDS is more than an immune system disease, it is a disease of poverty. As a result, prevention and treatment suffer. He says while HIV is primarily transmitted through sex, a large part of the problem is also due to injection drug use and the sharing of needles by addicts.

Mr. Cover believes more than a third of the people in Washington infected with the AIDS virus don’t know it. Most of the population of Washington is African-American. He says seventy-five percent of those infected with HIV in the city are African-American, only sixteen percent are white. He says to lower the rate among African-Americans will take a community effort to endorse prevention efforts and to get people to come in for testing.

The Whitman-Walker Clinic helps about six thousand people in the Washington, DC area who are HIV positive, whether they can afford treatment or not. Funding comes from federal and private sources. Mr. Cover spoke with English to Africa reporter Joe De Capua.