Pubdate: Sun, 4 Oct 2009
Source: Washington Post (DC)
Copyright: 2009 The Washington Post Company
Author: N. C. Aizenman, Washington Post Staff
Bookmark: (HIV/AIDS)
Bookmark: (Needle Exchange)

D.C. AIDS Walk


With many District residents stunned by recent findings that the 
city's HIV/AIDS infection rate is at epidemic levels, the 23rd annual 
AIDS Walk Washington attracted the highest turnout in several years, 
organizers said Saturday.

More than 7,000 participants, ranging from 20-somethings in ball 
gowns and other festive costumes to senior citizens in T-shirts, 
strolled or ran the 5-kilometer route along Pennsylvania Avenue NW in 
the morning, raising nearly $800,000 to benefit the nonprofit 
Whitman-Walker Clinic and its HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention programs.

Don Blanchon, the clinic's executive director and chief executive, 
attributed the heightened awareness to publication of a city study in 
March that found that 3 percent of District residents are infected 
with HIV -- a higher rate than in West Africa and on par with those 
in Uganda and parts of Kenya.

"There was a bit of shock and embarrassment and disappointment that 
we haven't done more in the fight against AIDS," Blanchon said. "So 
what we've seen in the months since that report has been a renewed 
sense of commitment -- more people volunteering, more people donating."

"I'm an epidemiologist, and I still find the statistics surprising," 
said Kathy Bainbridge, 44, who decided to join the timed-run portion 
of the event with several neighbors.

Many in the crowd also said they had been touched personally by the 
disease, which has hit the city's African American men particularly 
hard, infecting nearly 7 percent.

"My uncle passed from it two years ago. I'm here for him," said Tyrea 
Lonon, 25, an employee of the State Department's congressional travel 
office who was participating in the walk for the first time.

Despite the solemnity of the cause, Lonon said she felt upbeat. "You 
feel like at least you're doing something good to help out," she said.

D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty (D), who was among several speakers 
kicking off the event, struck an optimistic note, too. "I really do 
feel that although our challenges are tough, the city has never been 
more energized and more mobilized," he said to cheers from the crowd. 
"I really do feel that we're getting the message out of getting 
tested and making sure that you use the right type of prevention."

Although the mayor has won praise for restoring competence to the 
city's HIV/AIDS office and funding programs such as a needle exchange 
for drug addicts, he has also been criticized for not taking a more 
public role. And his short speech at the walk was no exception.

"He needed to put a lot more emphasis on prevention," said George 
Kerr, co-chairman of D.C. Fights Back, an outspoken AIDS advocacy 
group, shortly after Fenty left the stage. "The mayor talked about 
getting tested. But he should have gotten tested. He's a city leader, 
and he needs to be leading by example. He should be talking about 
HIV/AIDS every day." 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake