Mayor Gray takes an HIV test during a press conference in July.
Mayor Gray takes an HIV test during a press conference in July.

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Half of D.C. adult residents say they’ve learned something new from the city’s five-year campaign to educate residents about HIV, according to a D.C. Department of Health report released today. The study, “DC Takes on HIV,” specifically looked at the effectiveness of three city-wide campaigns: DC Takes on HIV, the hub of the city’s social media HIV-education campaign; Ask for the Test, a campaign that encourages people to get tested; and Rubber Revolution, which gives away free condoms throughout the city.

The report found that these campaigns have been effective, directly contributing to people getting tested and obtaining condoms.  The city surveyed more than 800 residents between the ages of 20 and 64 and found that 71 percent of survey respondents said they knew the city provided free condoms because of the marketing campaigns. Twenty-eight percent of respondents said they used condoms more frequently because of the campaign, and 55 percent of respondents said the campaigns made them consider getting tested.

In all, 27 percent said they got tested because of the campaigns.

The city has run ads about HIV on TV, on public transportation, in newspapers, posters throughout the city, and online.

D.C. has struggled with its HIV/AIDS infection rate in the past. But in recent years, things have started to look up. In 2008, for instance, there were 1,180 new cases of HIV in the District. In 2012, that declined to 680 cases. The number of AIDS cases—-the final stage of HIV, with the patient’s number of cells that fight infections dips to fatal level—-has similarly declined, a sign that HIV treatment is effective and more people are seeking treatment earlier.

The number of new AIDS cases declined by 35 percent between 2008 and 2012, from 567 cases to 370.

“We know that DC Takes on HIV and its companion campaigns work,” Dr. Joxel Garcia, director of the DC Department of Health, said in a statement. “Reaching residents in their homes or on the way to school or work is one of the best ways to connect residents to the array of HIV-prevention resources we offer. Providing those resources is the first step to combatting HIV. Connecting residents across the city to these resources is equally important.”

The stats still show that black residents are disproportionately impacted by HIV and account for nearly 75 percent of new infections. 2.5 percent of the entire District population has HIV, while 3.9 percent of black residents have it—-and 5.7 percent of black males have HIV. The World Health Organization defines an epidemic as a disease that infects at least 1 percent of the population, which means for black residents, it’s still a severe epidemic.

In June, Whitman-Walker Health—-the District’s largest community-based provider of HIV services—-announced that it was changing the name of its annual fundraising event from the ‘AIDS Walk Washington” to the “Walk to End HIV”  to reflect the fact that treatment now exists to keep people with HIV from ever having AIDS.

Doctors at Whitman Walker said at the time that the challenge was now to reach a new generation of people who weren’t old enough in the 1980s and early ’90s to remember the AIDs crisis and its staggering death toll. It’s a struggle, they say, to get these young people to take the necessary precautions to prevent getting infected.

Read the full report below:

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Photo by Perry Stein