Expert: D.C., Balto. need Africa-style ‘War on AIDS’

COMMERCIAL IMAGE - In this photograph taken by AP Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation, Michael Weinstein, president of AIDS Helathcare Foundation, marches with a sign in front of the White House during the Global AIDS Funding Protest March, Monday, July 23, 2012, in Washington. PEPFAR is the President\'s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. (Larry French/AP Images for AIDS Healthcare Foundation)

Paula Wolfson,

WASHINGTON – There’s a dire AIDS and HIV problem in D.C., but the numbers for the entire D.C.-Baltimore corridor are staggering.

“If you look at the statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the rates among D.C. and Baltimore and all along the corridor are the highest in the country,” says Heather Hauck, director of Infectious Disease and Environmental Health Administration for the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

“It certainly is a regional issue,” the AIDS coordinator says.

Local jurisdictions need to collaborate more and work more effectively along the entire corridor, she says, and that includes not just the two urban giants — D.C. and Baltimore — but also large counties like Montgomery and Prince George’s.

Hauck speaks in terms of coordinating regional efforts. But some experts in AIDS research and treatment want much more.

The lab managed by Dr. Robert Gallo, director of the Institute of Human Virology at the UMd. School of Medicine, discovered the link between HIV and AIDS and developed the blood test for the virus in 1984. He is now advocating an all-out federal effort to battle AIDS along the Washington-Baltimore area modeled after PEPFAR, the foreign aid program that has saved countless lives in AIDS-ravaged Africa.

In remarks at the World AIDS Conference, he said this region could be a big test case for the rest of the nation. Gallo said a “domestic PEPFAR can work.”

D.C.’s general in the war on AIDS, Dr. Gregory Pappas, has endorsed the idea, writing in a Washington Blade column that “a domestic PEPFAR would emphasize enhanced spending, promote regional data and plan and coordinate services regionally.”

That would include, of course, Northern Virginia where the Inova Juniper Program is the biggest provider of care to HIV-positive patients.

The program’s medical director, Dr. David Wheeler, says most of his colleagues would welcome more regional coordination. He says a new body to collect data, monitor quality of care and even share medical records could be beneficial, especially if it provides clinicians with the support they need to give good care to their patients.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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