Changing Local Policy
The Washington AIDS Partnership is committed to addressing systemic policy issues negatively impacting HIV and related health services, and increasing community engagement and advocacy around HIV.
The Greater Washington region has been disproportionately affected by the HIV epidemic, and local efforts to drive policy are crucial to ensuring an effective response to this public health crisis. The Partnership has had several policy initiatives:
Improving D.C.’s Response to the HIV Epidemic
One of the Partnership’s policy partners is the DC Appleseed Center. Founded in 1994, the DC Appleseed Center is an independent nonprofit organization dedicated to strengthening the financial health and management of the District of Columbia.
In 2004, the local community was becoming increasingly concerned with the D.C. government’s response to the HIV epidemic, including mismanagement, outdated epidemiological info, and other issues. The Partnership approached DC Appleseed to examine this issue. The 2005 report, HIV/AIDS in the Nation’s Capital, was released, providing recommendations on how to improve D.C.’s response to HIV.
DC Appleseed continued to analyze progress made through the release of subsequent “report cards.” Each report card was used as a tool to hold the D.C. government accountable and foster community engagement. By assigning grades to aspects of the District’s response, the reports highlighted areas that needed improvement, and identified successes. Walter Smith, Executive Director of DC Appleseed, stated that the reports have been “a catalyst in bringing greater unity among a lot of community groups, service groups, and advocates.” Read the ninth and most recent report here.
After the publishing of nine report cards, the Partnership had the idea to create a plan, a collaborative effort with the D.C. government to move towards ending the HIV epidemic. To learn more about the 90/90/90/50 Plan: Ending the HIV Epidemic in the District of Columbia by 2020, visit the Ending the HIV Epidemic webpage.
Syringe Access Working Group
One of the Washington AIDS Partnership’s public policy successes is the drastic decrease in HIV transmissions associated with injection drug use. The District of Columbia was the only jurisdiction in the nation specifically prohibited by Congress from using local public funds for syringe exchange programs (SEPs). When implemented as part of an HIV prevention strategy, SEPs are an effective public health approach to reducing the spread of HIV without increasing drug use.
SEPs are crucial to engaging injection drug users (IDUs), one of the most hard-to-reach populations at high risk for HIV infection. SEPs provide IDUs access to sterile syringes and safe disposal of used syringes. Many of these programs also provide complementary services such as HIV testing and counseling, and access to drug treatment. In fact, SEPs are often an important point of entry to medical care and drug treatment for IDUs who experience significant barriers to accessing health care.
The congressional prohibition on Washington, D.C. using public funds for SEPs was in place for many years, significantly limiting local syringe exchange services. In 2004, the Washington AIDS Partnership founded the Syringe Access Working Group (SAWG) to respond to this public policy issue. The SAWG’s goal is to reduce the District of Columbia’s HIV infection rate by ensuring that every D.C. injection drug user has access to sterile syringes and ancillary services.
SAWG members include local advocacy organizations such as the DC Appleseed Center; local syringe exchange providers such as Family and Medical Counseling Service and HIPS; community members; federal partners such as AIDS United and Drug Policy Alliance; and the HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, STD, and TB Administration.
After several years of the SAWG’s and other partners’ intensive public education and advocacy efforts, the congressional prohibition on using public funds for D.C. SEPs was lifted in late 2007. In 2008, D.C. began expanding SEP services, resulting in fewer new HIV infections due to injection drug use.
The SAWG’s work continues as Congress could reinstate the prohibition through the annual D.C. appropriations process. SAWG members also work directly with the D.C. government to ensure adequate funding for SEPs and address other local policy issues.