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1 in 40 in Wash DC Have HIV/AIDS: AIDS Warriors in Wash DC
 
 
  A pioneering city in AIDS research, Washington, D.C., is ground zero for AIDS outbreaks. With infection rates in the nation's capital now the highest in the country, health care workers have become foot soldiers in a battle to save Black women's lives
 
By Donna M. Owens
http://www.essence.com
 
Torena White is pacing the sidewalk outside the Woodland Terrace housing project in southeast Washington, D.C., calling out to anyone who crosses her path. In her baggy jeans, sneakers and black leather jacket, White might be mistaken for one of the residents hustling drugs in this notoriously rough inner city neighborhood. But the 40-year-old is actually a health care worker, whose only street game is trying to stop the disease from spreading.
 
"Want to get tested? We're doing HIV tests today," she says, gesturing toward a makeshift clinic inside a nearby rec center, where her outreach team has set up tables with instant test kits. Her smile is warm, her voice friendly. "Come on in! We can hook you up with a test for free."
 
One of countless foot soldiers on the front lines of what a local health official has dubbed a "modern, large and diverse epidemic," she knows what is at stake. Simply put, D.C. now has the highest infection rate in the country. A November 2007 health department report showed that one in every 40 D.C. residents is thought to be infected with either HIV or AIDS. Enter workers like White, among the team of doctors, social workers and outreach advocates at Family & Medical Counseling Service Inc., a community-based health care agency in the heart of D.C.'s Anacostia community.
 
"About 55 percent of our caseload is African-American women, most between the ages of 39 and 45," says Angela Fulwood Wood, a social worker who is Family & Medical's deputy director. "Many of the women we see were diagnosed after a history of injection drug use or multiple sexual partners," she says. "But increasingly we're seeing women who have contracted this from heterosexual relationships with men."
 
Inside the cramped offices that Family & Medical occupies on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue, medical director Veronica Mapp-Jenkins, M.D., chats with one of her longtime patients. Carole, 48, was diagnosed with HIV 11 years ago. "At first I was in denial. I didn't want to deal with the sickness and pain," says Carole, a pretty woman with smooth skin who once had a crack addiction. "But I have been coming here for ten years, and let me tell you, they are miracle workers."
 
On any given day, some of the 75 Family & Medical workers can be found traveling the region in a Winnebago that serves as a mobile clinic, visiting jails, churches and festivals-anywhere they can reach people.
 
Back at the housing project, several teenage boys, who should probably be in school but are hanging out instead, follow White inside and ask for condoms. One brags about needing "a whole box." Another wants the "super" size. White tells them if they agree to be tested, she'll throw in a $5 gift card for groceries. One baby-faced young man, only 17, is game. Twenty minutes later, results from the instant test kit are back, and the teen learns his status: He is HIV-free. The advocate notes how deeply personal this fight is. "This issue captured me," White says. "If we can really reach people, if we can get them tested, maybe we can save them."
 
 
 
 
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