Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Breaking Down Barriers to D.C.’s AIDS Problem

According to a report authored by D.C. Appleseed and the law firm of Hogan & Hartson, one in 20 District residents is living with HIV/AIDS.

Surprised? So was I. Almost as surprised as when I was in middle school and Washington, D.C. was declared the murder capital of the United States.

I knew that America had issues with crime and poverty that ran contrary to popular opinion and culture. Still, for some reason, I always thought the District should be a model for the rest of the country. At least in the nation’s capital, there should be less crime and more opportunities for upward mobility than any other city. At least here we could begin to implement a plan to prevent the high incidence of HIV/AIDS and adequately treat those that already have it. How could we live in the country’s worst city for HIV/AIDS and, even worse, how could we be completely oblivious to it? There are a lot of factors contributing to our ignorance.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic is a global issue. One person is infected with HIV every 6.4 seconds. We must continue to discuss HIV/AIDS as a world health issue, because it will take the resources of every nation to combat the spread of this disease.

When we as Americans talk about global issues, however, we often forget that we are a part of the globe too. We identify poverty as a global issue, but it still remains foreign to us. We watch ads about saving the children of Africa, Latin America and Eastern Europe, but Katrina and Rita only recently opened many of our eyes to the abject poverty within our own borders.

Similarly, it’s easy for us to recognize HIV/AIDS as a global issue, but Americans often forget that it remains a domestic one as well. Many of us do not consider how HIV/AIDS might impact the people that we see and interact with on a daily basis. As residents or at least members of the larger D.C. community, we can no longer afford to ignore HIV/AIDS.

The District’s student and young professional populations are highly transient. While many of us do care about local issues, we define local in very different ways.

Georgetown and the District of Columbia attract students from all over the country and the world. Some of these students care about the state legislature in Alabama. Some of them care about the race for mayor in Chicago or in Tokyo. For many of those who spend their young professional lives in the District, the city is just a stop on the way to someplace else.

Even those of us who stay in the area define “the area” differently. The suburbs surrounding the District have some of the best schools and the highest per capita income rates in the country. Although many people work in the District, they live and vote in Maryland and Virginia. Worse still, the District has no commuter tax on income earned within its borders so valuable tax revenue leaves the city along with its commuters. Washington, D.C., may be the place where many of us earn a living, but unfortunately, it is not the place we would call our home or neighborhood.

Even if we wanted to learn how HIV/AIDS affect local communities, the District’s vast and highly segregated land area contributes to many people’s ignorance about HIV/AIDS.

I never realized quite how large and segregated the city was until I started representing clients at Georgetown Law’s Juvenile Justice Clinic this semester, but I guess I should have.

Before this year, I only went to Northeast for Union Station or house parties just across the Northwest border. I only went to Southeast when I wanted to go to Eastern Market or a house party somewhere near Capitol Hill.

The Metro doesn’t go to the neighborhoods ravaged by HIV/AIDS. You have to take a bus or three to get there. Cab drivers claim they don’t know how to get to addresses on the other side of the Anacostia River. Still, the face of HIV/AIDS in the District is overwhelmingly poor and overwhelmingly African-American. But if you live and work downtown, or in Maryland or Virginia, you would never know it.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic is just one aspect of the health crisis impacting the District. It is just one of the many local issues that we don’t know about.

Today there will be a panel discussion detailing the prevalence of HIV/AIDS in Room 201 of the McDonough Building at the Georgetown Law Center from 5:30-7:30 p.m. The panel will be moderated by Professor Lawrence Gostin and will include policy experts from public interest think tanks, law firms, health care providers and the District government. The goal of this event is to educate the Georgetown community on how the HIV/AIDS epidemic has ravaged the District and what we as a community of students, legal practitioners and concerned residents can do to counteract this disproportionately devastating health crisis.

There are lots of barriers, institutional and otherwise, that have led to our collective ignorance about HIV/AIDS in the District. Hopefully, however, identifying some of those factors can make this city and its unique culture, people and problems more accessible to us. Then we can start getting involved in creating solutions.

Donald Sherman is a 2002 graduate of the College and a third-year student at Georgetown University Law Center.

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