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World looks to D.C. as leader in HIV cases and care

Wednesday - 7/25/2012, 6:16pm  ET

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UNAIDS Deputy Executive Director, Programme, Dr Paul De Lay participates in a press conference "Combination Prevention in Action: A Common Sense Approach to HIV and AIDS" at the 2012 International AIDS conference in Washington DC, July 24, 2012. (Courtesy UNAIDS/C. Kleponis)

How the epidemic in the U.S. and D.C. compares to the rest of the world

Dr. Paul De Lay, deputy executive director of UNAIDS

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Thomas Warren, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - Despite the more than 34 million people worldwide living with HIV, the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS is determined to see an end to the disease.

The sentiment is echoed by Dr. Paul De Lay, deputy executive director of UNAIDS, the global coordinator of the worldwide HIV response.

De Lay spoke with WTOP at the AIDS 2012 International Conference taking place in Washington, D.C.

In the U.S., the numbers suggest ending AIDS will take a small miracle.

There were 48,000 new HIV infections in 2009 in the U.S., and 1.1 million people are living with HIV, according to statistics from the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Local doctors who specialize in HIV treatment have called for an aggressive response to the epidemic, similar to the President's Emergency Program for AIDS Relief, often referred to as PEPFAR.

The U.S. does not have a program to the scale of PEPFAR. De Lay points to communication difficulties between the federal government and states in coordinating a large-scale response as a reason a program of that size doesn't exist domestically.

"You see a lot of diversity across the states as to how seriously they take their charge," De Lay says.

In D.C., which has gained a national reputation as the HIV capitol, 2.7 percent of the population is living with the virus. The World Health Organization's standard for a medical epidemic is 1 percent.

However, the District has also emerged as a leader in implementing HIV strategies and treatments.

In 2011, Mayor Vince Gray initiated a program to offer free HIV tests at a DMV location, as well as at the city services office in Southeast.

According to the the city's latest epidemiology report, 89 percent of those diagnosed with HIV used the city's care services in the last year.

Experts believe the world looks to the U.S. for new breakthroughs in treatments because of resources that allow programs like D.C.'s to exist.

"Also, they look to the United States for diagnostics, laboratory, making delivery to treatments safer and more effective," De Lay says.

More than medical discoveries though, De Lay says in order to make an AIDS-free generation a reality, the grass roots commitment the U.S. has led to educate communities must continue.

"The U.S. is also seen as the founding of true AIDS activism, he says, "And, I think it will always be acknowledged for that."

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)