The popular image of the US capital is that of a monumental and historic city, the bastion of US democracy, and a place of law and order. Behind the scenes in urban Washington, however, District of Columbia offers a little less pleasant scenario. The seat of the federal government, with a population of approximately 600,000 people of which 55 percent are African-Americans, suffers almost Third World problems.
The latest reminder of the misery behind picturesque Washington is the latest epidemiological report from the office tasked to combat AIDS. According to the results presented this week, at least 3 percent of the residents in the District of Columbia suffer from AIDS or carry the HIV virus. 3,000 out of 100,000 people older than twelve years are infected with HIV/AIDS. From the standpoint of public health, upwards of 1 percent is considered a serious situation and a widespread epidemic.
The percentage of documented HIV-infected population in Washington DC is comparable to that of Uganda and Kenya. As explained by Dr. Shannon Hader, director of the office for HIV/AIDS in Washington, “Our rates are higher than those in West Africa.” The specialist, who came to work from Zimbabwe as part of the cooperation with the Centers for Disease Control, acknowledged that the US capital’s levels of contamination are “on par with those in Uganda and some parts of Kenya.”
Dr. Hader also indicated that 3 percent is probably a conservative figure, with estimates pointing to a more realistic 5 percent. To further complicate the situation, the AIDS epidemic in Washington has made progress on all possible fronts: homosexuals, heterosexuals, and drug users. Its prevalence among heterosexual black men of a certain age has a rate of 7 percent.
It is an uncanny irony that former US President George W. Bush considers the alleviation of AIDS in Africa as one of the crowning glories of his administration.
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