Washington Schools Lacking HIV/AIDS Education

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Delays in implementing acomprehensive HIV/AIDS education program in Washington, D.C.,public schools are putting students at risk and undermining the city's effortsto fight the disease, according to a report released Wednesday by the DC Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, the Washington Post reports. The center has given thedistrict's public school system a "D" grade for its lack of progressin providing HIV/AIDS education to students, according to the Post.

"In the midst of this crisis, students should be getting information inschool that will help prevent infection for the rest of their lives," thereport said, adding that despite several school board resolutions for immediateaction, "fewer and fewer" young people have received HIV/AIDSeducation in recent years. The group called on school board leaders and MayorAdrian Fenty's administration to set strong standards and curricula on HIV/AIDSbefore classes start next fall. "The district's young people are entitledto nothing less," the report said.

Appleseed Executive Director Walter Smith said the report would have given theschool system a failing grade if officials had not committed to making changes.HIV/AIDS education "simply wasn't made a high priority," Smith said.District School Chancellor Michelle Rhee in a statement released Tuesdayacknowledged the issues. "Going forward," the school system is"committed to implementing comprehensive health curriculum that includesinstruction on HIV/AIDS and other infectious diseases," Rhee said. Theschool board is scheduled to vote on Thursday on the overall standards thatwill be the initial steps toward the health curriculum goal, the Postreports.

Other Evaluations

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According to the Post,the school system's grade is a "glaring negative" in a report cardthat also reflects signs of improvement in the district's HIV/AIDS efforts. Thegroup issued an "A" to two of the 12 areas evaluated in the report,and six other categories received their highest score to date. This is thethird assessment that Appleseed has issued since March 2006. Appleseed saidthat the scores reflect the district government's success this year "increating the beginnings of an infrastructure of a properly functioning publichealth system to address the epidemic, something lacking in the district forquite some time."

The most recent HIV/AIDS figures for the district found that almost 12,500people were known to be living with the disease in 2006 and that more than 80%of several thousand new HIV cases since 2001 occurred among black residents,the Post reports. Although the figures "renewedcriticism" of the HIV/AIDS Administration's prior handling of the epidemic,they represented an important statistical "breakthrough" for whichAppleseed awarded an "A," according to the Post. Thereport also includes a number of accomplishments on disease surveillance by theHIV/AIDS Administration, such as fixing a HIV/AIDS case backlog and workingwith community groups, laboratories and doctors for better data collection. Thereport said that the improvement in HIV/AIDS surveillance "does not byitself advance the city's response to the epidemic" but provides "amuch needed new tool for targeting that response."

The report also noted that the HIV/AIDS Administration now has more than fourdozen hospitals, clinics, private doctors and not-for-profit groups doingroutine HIV testing during medical care. In addition, the agency increased itsdistribution of no-cost condoms from 115,000 last year to a projected onemillion this year, and it responded quickly when groups complained about someof the condom packaging, Appleseed said. HIV/AIDS Administration DirectorShannon Hader, who took office in mid-October, has pledged to triple the numberof condoms distributed by 2009. Hader expressed satisfaction with theevaluation, adding, "It helps us to have another eye on what we're doing,to give us feedback."

The district's Department of Corrections received the highest score from thegroup. About 75% of inmates at the district jail are screened for HIV/AIDS on arrival, the Postreports. Beginning in January, HIV-positive inmates will receive a 28-daysupply of antiretroviral drugs on discharge so their treatment is notinterrupted. The two initiatives are "at the forefront of thenation," Appleseed's report said. "Enormous progress has beenmade," Susan Galbraith -- director of the not-for-profit Our Place DC,which assists women who have been incarcerated -- said (Levine, WashingtonPost, 12/12).

Reprintedwith permission from kaisernetwork.org. You can view the entire Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Report, search the archives, and sign upfor email delivery at kaisernetwork.org/email . The Kaiser Daily HIV/AIDS Reportis published for kaisernetwork.org, a free service of The Henry J. KaiserFamily Foundation.

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