Since the 1980s HIV/AIDS outbreak, scientists and societies have embarked upon a challenging mission to combat this still-incurable disease. In 1988, the World Health Organization dedicated December 1st of every year as World AIDS Day, an occasion to remember those who had fallen prey to the epidemic.
Washington, DC, capital of the nation with the world’s largest GDP, currently has a HIV/AIDS prevalence rate (117 per 100,000 people) higher than the rates of some of the most resource-limited countries on Earth. Taking on some of the essential characteristics for HIV to thrive, including dense populations and drug use, Washington recently instilled strong measures to reduce HIV incidence. 68 percent of DC adolescents currently receive education on strategies to prevent HIV contraction and HIV symptoms. In addition, five free clinics were established around the capital to offer free screening to vulnerable populations.
In the summer of 2012, HIV incidence rates among African American females living in the District of Columbia reached an all-time high, reminding the public of the formidable obstacles on the road to stopping AIDS. Dauntingly, an estimated 21 percent of HIV carriers are not aware of their condition, thus hindering prevention efforts.
Neighboring Washington, Montgomery County has also led a strong HIV/AIDS prevention program. In 2010, 3,008 individuals, 39 of whom are teens, were living as HIV/AIDS carriers in Montgomery County. In addition, about 2 out of every 100,000 deaths in Montgomery County are due to HIV/AIDS infection. In our school system, HIV/AIDS education is an essential component of the health class required for middle and high school students. These preventive education programs help to reduce risk among 20-29 year olds, the population group most vulnerable to HIV/AIDS contraction.
Aside from educational classes, many students hope to see more programs enacted to inform the public about HIV/AIDS. Joey, a student at Richard Montgomery High School, believes that “oftentimes these health classes simply throw out scary stories about young people crying when they found out they contracted HIV. It makes everyone want to avoid those people rather than actively trying to find a solution.”
Free, confidential HIV testing is available in Montgomery County by calling the Department of Health and Human Services at 240-777-1760.
Image by Eva Shen, MoCo Student staff artist