Monthly Archives: August 2012

D.C. Mayor Gray Hosts Historic Ramadan Iftar Dinner

By Talib I. Karim, Health & Tech Writer

For version published in the Afro American:

D.C. Mayor Gray welcomed scores of Muslim and non-Muslims to the Wilson Building, which he called “the people’s house,” for a Ramadan Iftar (Courtesy Photo/Lateef Magnum)

On Aug. 17,  2012, the last Friday of the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) hosted an Iftar dinner at the Wilson Building.  Joining the Mayor in presenting this event was the D.C. Muslim Democratic Caucus along with a distinguished list of co-hosts including the Council on American Islamic Relations, the Red Toque Café, and Real Halal, LLC.

Iftar is an Arabic word, that literally means “breakfast.” Traditionally it’s known as the meal Muslims enjoy at sunset following a day of fasting. During Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, Muslims are obligated to avoid eating, drinking, and sexual relations from the early morning, when the sun begins to rise, until it sets. The fasting requirement is relaxed for those who are traveling, sick, and, for women, during menstruation.

Since the Islamic calendar is lunar based, the months rotate throughout the official calendar year. This year, Ramadan was observed during the summer, from late July to Aug. 18. As the first late-summer occurrence of Ramadan in forty years, Muslims were required to fast for upwards of 15 hours per day. Thus, the Iftar meal can be a big deal and is often celebrated along with family, neighbors, and friends.

With an estimated 10 percent to 20 percent of District residents having at least one Muslim family member, literally thousands of Iftar feasts were held in D.C. this Ramadan. These gatherings took place in homes, businesses, embassies, and even in government buildings like the White House. At the Iftar hosted by President Obama, he spoke about importance of religious freedom both here and globally, the strength of Muslim women, and the gains for Muslims over the past year since the Arab Spring.

A week after the president’s remarks at the White House, Gray at the Wilson Building Iftar observed, “Regardless of your race, culture or religious beliefs, the principles of fasting, reflection and discipline — which are upheld by the Muslim community year-round and especially in this season of Ramadan — are practices from which everyone can benefit.”

“We could all use a little more discipline,” Gray said, possibly referring to some who’ve called on the veteran politician to leave office early in light of the investigation into his successful 2010 campaign.

The mayor left his guests with a prayer. “I pray that this time of celebration will remind us that we can only advance as a city and as a nation together when each of us values the contributions of the other and respects their beliefs and their practices…[M]ay we all draw upon the strength of our diversity so that we can be closer, more effective and more powerful than any of the things that would otherwise tear us apart.”

The event drew over 100 Muslim business, religious, and political leaders along with distinguished non-Muslims like Franklin Garcia, chairman of the D.C. Latino Democratic Caucus. “I was pleased to see that the Muslim community was not only so well organized but they are a growing minority in the [District],” said Garcia. “You had a sense in the room that everyone was there for… a purpose that was very serious and meaningful. “The Latino community can learn from the Muslim community about the way they organized themselves,” Garcia added.

Garcia also had some words of wisdom for his Muslim hosts, who earlier in the Iftar program, observed that of the over 150 judges in D.C., not a single one is Muslim, while Maryland has at least two Muslims sitting as judges. “What you do is organize, organize,” to change this fact urged Garcia.

Several members of the Mayor’s cabinet attended his Iftar including DCRA Director Nick Majett; Interim Health Director Dr. Saul Levin and Ron Linton, chairman of the D.C. Taxicab Commission.

While not the first such Iftar hosted by a D.C. mayor, event organizers described the event as the first to be both widely publicized and attended.

Imam Talib Shareef, who leads one of the largest Muslim congregations in the District of Columbia, saluted the Mayor on hosting one of the best Iftars he’d attended throughout the month of fasting. “This Iftar was mainly for the common people,” said Imam Shareef.  Concerning the Mayor’s political troubles, Imam Shareef said, “We support good works, the Mayor has done some good works and that’s what we see…like a ground breaking we attended for senior housing….We don’t pay as much attention to things we don’t see.”   Imam Shareef’s advice for the Mayor was “[J]ust keep doing good works and… this [the Iftar] was an example of good works for the people.”


African-American Women Face Challenges, Find Support in Quitting Smoking

By Talib I. Karim, Health Writer*

Nearly 20% of African American women smoke cigarettes, some fear gaining weight if they quit. Health professionals suggest that women can shed smoking and pounds, together. (Photo/

 Sister Mary, as we’ll call her, is sharp-dressing, nice looking, and holds an MBA degree along with a six-figure position with the federal government.

An usher board member with a prominent church, Sister Mary recently added a new title, “ex-smoker,” she proudly professes.

“I got started young…and used to smoke a pack a day,” says Sister Mary, which according to the American Legacy Foundation can be as many as 25 cigarettes.“Two years ago, when my mom died, I cut back to three a day,” Sister Mary reflects.  From then until just recently, Sister Mary explains “I would normally go onto my balcony and enjoy a cigarette along with a glass of red wine,” she adds.

In late July, a friend disclosed to Sister Mary that he could taste cigarettes in her skin and on her lips, even though it had been hours since she had last smoked.  “That’s when I knew it was time for me to quit for good,” recounts Sister Mary.

The taste of cigarettes as described by Sister Mary’s friend is real according to Dr. Joseph Adams, MD, who specializes in internal and addiction medicine at Park West Health Systems in Baltimore, MD.  “Kissing a smoker is like licking an ash tray,” says Dr. Adams, past president of the anti-smoking group, Smoke Free Maryland.

Dr. Adams also notes that smoking by mothers during pregnancy is widely understood to cause behavior problems and learning disabilities in their new born.  The American Legacy Foundation recommends that since smoking can damage the DNA, it is “vitally important” for men and women alike who wish to have children to quit smoking at least several months prior to conception.

Women who smoke can also risk the health of those near them through second-hand smoking.  The U.S Surgeon General estimates that living with a smoker increases the chance of getting lung cancer by 20% to 30%.  Many studies show that secondhand smoke causes children to develop asthma, ear infections, and pneumonia in children.

In fact, some researchers suggest that even after a person gives up smoking, the toxins from past smoking that remain in a person’s hair and clothes or in carpet and furniture are hazardous to infants and children.  Researchers describe this gradual buildup of toxins from secondhand smoke as “thirdhand smoke.”

While stats like these inspire women like Sister Mary to kick the habit annually, quitting smoking like ending a long relationship, is easier said than done, according to Dr. Adams.  And that’s not by mistake, he adds.

report by the National Institutes of Health’s National Library of Medicine suggests conditions called “smoking withdrawal symptoms” are tied to nicotine, the highly addictive ingredient in cigarette smoke.  According to the report, cigarette companies manipulate levels of nicotine in cigarettes to make sure that smokers become addicted.

Nicotine causes the brain to release chemicals that create feelings of pleasure, or the “buzz” which many smokers report.  Within half an hour, the “buzz” fades away and the smoker is left feeling depressed and tired. This feeling is what causes smoker to light up the next cigarette. The cycle of stimulation and depression keeps repeating, which leads to addiction.

A person who plans to stop smoking can expect several withdrawal symptoms including headaches, nausea, and low blood pressure.  In addition to physical symptoms, women should also be on guard for the emotional issues that often result from smoking withdrawal such as anxiety, trouble sleeping, and even hunger.

To cope with these issues, Dr. Krystal Stanley, Ph.D., a DC-based licensed psychologist offers patients a few techniques.  Dr. Stanley recommends that those seeking to kick the habit should be prepared to address anxieties that may have caused them to start smoking in the first place.

For sleeping troubles and weight gain concerns, Dr. Stanley advises patients to (1) avoid alcohol or caffeinated beverages up to five hours before bed; (2) spend an hour or so before bed to wind down, without TV, text messages, or other highly stimulating input; and finally (3) drink a warm, non-caffeinated beverage before bed such as warm milk or tea.

Beyond the withdrawal symptoms, since as Dr. Adams notes, over 4000 chemical compounds are created by burning a cigarette, many additives like nicotine can remain in the body long after you quit smoking.

The health web portal,, suggests several steps for flushing your body of nicotine including drinking at least 8-10 glasses of water per day; consuming fruits containing antioxidants like Vitamin C; and regular and rigorous physical exercise.

Knowledge is one of the most potent weapons to help women leave cigarettes for good suggests Amber Bullock with the American Legacy Foundation.   On this front Bullock’s organization offers a free hotline (1-800-QUIT-NOW) and a website where smokers can develop a personalized quit plan at


*Brian Jones contributed to this article.  To contact the writer, email him at

DC Finds “Cure” for Ending Mother-Child HIV Transmissions, No HIV Births Since ’09

By Talib I. Karim, Health & Tech Writer
For version published in

The District of Columbia has cut mother-baby HIV transmission from 36 per year in 1989 to zero from 2009-2011 (photo courtesy/









Of the more than 600,000 residents of the District of Columbia, 2.7 percent are living with HIV, according to a new D.C. government report. This rate is double the amount needed for a disease to be called an “epidemic” by the World Health Organization.

Despite that fact, no children have been born with HIV since 2009.

The D.C. government’s success in eliminating HIV births, down from a high of more than three per month, is an “awesome” achievement, says Dr. Marta Gwen of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to the CDC, mother-to-child HIV transmission can occur anytime during pregnancy, labor, delivery or breastfeeding.

Between 1988 and 1990, when AIDS cases were at their highest levels, Dr. Gwen led a team that tested thousands of delivering moms in D.C. over a given 12-month period. It was discovered that, of those tested, 121 mothers and an estimated 36 newborn babies were HIV-positive.

HIV infections of African-American mothers continue to rise

While D.C. celebrates no new HIV births, children remain at risk due to the increasing infection rates among women, particularly African-American women. In D.C., the rates of HIV infection among all women have doubled in the past four years to 12.1 percent — that’s more than one in every ten women.

Nationally, African-American women are among the highest group of newly infected persons. In 2009, of all women newly diagnosed with HIV, 57 percent were African-American — 15 times that of Caucasian women, and over three times the rate among Hispanic and Latina women.

Unlike years past, when intravenous drug use was the primary cause of HIV infection among women of color, most acquire HIV through heterosexual sex. Yet, fear remains a hindrance for some African-American women.

“There is still a large amount of stigma surrounding HIV in women of color,” says Chip Lewis, spokesperson with D.C.’s Whitman-Walker AIDS clinic. That makes it much less likely that large amounts of women of color will get tested or treated for HIV, he adds.

Winning formula, good investment

Eradicating mother-to-child HIV transmission hasn’t been easy, says Dr. Gregory Pappas, director of D.C.’s HIV/AIDS administration.

“Physicians have worked to provide HIV tests to all new moms in the District. Those found to be positive are immediately put on medication,” explains Pappas, who credits D.C. Mayor Vince Gray for ensuring that mothers and anyone else who tests positive can receive antiretroviral medication for free. These new medicines have allowed mothers to reduce their HIV viral loads so low that it is highly unlikely for them to transmit HIV to their infants.

Babies of infected mothers are also being delivered by C-section, which “eliminates much of the blood that causes mother-infant transmission,” states Pappas. And, after birth, HIV-positive mothers in D.C. are often instructed to feed their infants baby formula rather than breast milk.

Finding a solution for perinatal HIV transmission hasn’t been cheap. A lifetime pack of antiretroviral drugs costs the D.C. government $400,000 per person, notes Dr. Pappas.

But, the investment by the District makes sense according to Larry Warren, CEO of Howard University Hospital, who regularly delivered babies with HIV in the 1980s and 1990s. In terms of D.C.’s unique HIV prevention strategy, Warren asserts “I don’t believe the District of Columbia has a peer [that rivals us] in this country.”

Talib I. Karim manages a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that assists clients in resolving health, family, and construction-related legal issues.  In addition to writing for his blog,, Talib hosts a weekly talk show in Washington, D.C.