In DC, the Washington Post reports city officials would like to mandate HIV testing in response to a city-wide “epidemic:”
The District has been on high alert since its HIV/AIDS Administration reported this year that at least 3 percent of D.C. residents, or about 15,000 people, are living with HIV and AIDS, the highest-known rate in the country.
Thousands more don’t know they have the virus, according to the agency.
Of those who have recently been tested for HIV, it is believed that nearly a third are inmates at the D.C. jail.
“If you look at how the epidemic is spreading, there is a high prevalence [of the virus] in the jail population,” said D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D), one of the bill’s co-sponsors. “People are bringing it back to our community, which really is continuing to spread the virus.”
I’m all in favor of HIV testing for individuals, but I’m not certain a mandatory program will do anything to address the issue. According to the Post, 99% of DC inmates have voluntarily been tested.
This sounds like a politician’s shallow efforts to say they’re working to fix a problem, but actually shifting the focus to something near the problem. If the problem is the spread of HIV in prisons, then wouldn’t we need to focus on the acts that are causing the disease to spread? But no one wants to talk about prison rape. What’s scary is that if 99% of the inmates know their HIV status and the virus is spreading within the prison, they’re not taking precautions even though they’re aware of their HIV status.
I suppose it wouldn’t go over well to instead propose a bill to hand out free condoms in jail. But it could be effective as part of a two-prong approach; the other prong would necessarily be a strategic focus on reducing rape and assault in prison. If those who are having consensual sex had access to condoms, and the predators were prevented from attacking other inmates, then we might have a solution.
In the meantime, though, I don’t know what requiring these tests will do to stop the epidemic.
“Our fear is that if you put in place a mandatory program, you not only have very little to gain but you may actually be undermining a good program that we already have in place,” said Walter Smith, executive director of D.C. Appleseed Center for Law and Justice, a public policy organization that supports HIV testing but opposes the bill. Both D.C. Corrections Director Devon Brown and HIV/AIDS Administration Director Shannon Hader said they oppose mandatory testing.
Contrast that statement with the comments from the bill’s sponsor’s spokesperson:
“Lives are being lost, breadwinners are being lost, family members are being lost,” Barry said through a spokesperson. “We need to be doing all that we can in this serious situation.”
Who do you think sounds more sincere, and who sounds sensational? If the DC city officials want to point their fingers at inmates as the cause of the high prevalence of HIV in their city, couldn’t they at least be somewhat pragmatic in attempting a solution? To me, even a sex education course on the benefits and risks of protected sex would be more useful than a mandatory program testing the 1% of inmates who won’t voluntarily get tested.
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