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About a hundred community members and religious and civic leaders gathered at dusk at the fountain in Dupont Circle Dec. 1 for a candlelight vigil in honor of World AIDS Day.
The vigil, sponsored yearly by Whitman-Walker Health, the local nonprofit community health center that also provides specialized care to those infected with HIV/AIDS, is designed to remember those who have died from AIDS-related illnesses and to demand stronger action at both the local and global levels to end the pandemic.
According to statistics cited by speakers at the vigil, 3 percent of the adult population in the District is known to have HIV, 300 times the national average. In addition, another 2 to 3 percent of adults are believed to be infected with HIV but are undiagnosed.
Mayor Vincent Gray, who attended the vigil as part of a series of events he was holding to raise awareness of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the District, spoke fervently about stopping the spread of the disease. Gray cited improvements in the District’s HIV-prevention, diagnosis and treatment efforts while taking a swipe at the Republican-led Congress for attempting to prevent the District from funding its own needle-exchange program.
Don Blanchon, executive director of Whitman-Walker Health, ended the vigil pleading with those in attendance to ”get involved, not just today, but the other 364 days of the year” to help end the spread of HIV/AIDS.
When asked later how people might get involved, Blanchon said that personal connections with friends or family members who engage in risky behaviors or have health problems or addictions can be just as important as the health practitioner-patient relationship.
”Your responsibility isn’t to change them; your responsibility is to reach out and say, ‘Hey, let’s get tested,’ or ‘Let’s sit down and have a cup of coffee,”’ Blanchon said. ”There are small things each one of us can do.”