Archive for October 2016

H.I.V. arrived in the U.S. long before ‘patient zero’

October 27, 2016

From the New  York Times

In the tortuous mythology of the AIDS epidemic, one legend never seems to die: Patient Zero, a.k.a. Gaétan Dugas, a globe-trotting, sexually insatiable French Canadian flight attendant who supposedly picked up H.I.V. in Haiti or Africa and spread it to dozens, even hundreds, of men before his death in 1984.

Mr. Dugas was once blamed for setting off the entire American AIDS epidemic, which traumatized the nation in the 1980s and has since killed more than 500,000 Americans. The New York Post even described him with the headline “The Man Who Gave Us AIDS.”

27aids4-superjumboBut after a new genetic analysis of stored blood samples, bolstered by some intriguing historical detective work, scientists on Wednesday declared himinnocent.

The strain of H.I.V. responsible for almost all AIDS cases in the United States, which was carried from Zaire to Haiti around 1967, spread from there to New York City around 1971, researchers concluded in the journal Nature. From New York, it spread to San Francisco around 1976.

Read the full article.

Why aren’t HIV prevention pills going to the people who need them?

October 26, 2016

From Rolling Stone online

When Truvada was introduced four years ago as a way to prevent HIV, public health leaders didn’t welcome the drug with open arms. The head of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation panned the once-daily pill as a “party drug.” Other health officials claimed that taking Truvada would cause a wave of wild unprotected sex. Even members of the LGBTQ community parroted the criticism, with one gay journalist (regretfully) labeling some users “Truvada whores.”

But the last four years has seen a shift in attitude. More andgetting-prep-to-people-who-need-it more Americans are embracing pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), the HIV prevention method that requires a daily dose of Truvada to reduce viral risk. And more and more prescriptions are being written for the antiretroviral drug. While PrEP is growing in popularity, a new study out of the University of California released last month suggests that the populations most at risk of HIV infection are not the ones benefitting from the prevention strategy.

In a survey of gay and bisexual men in California, only a handful of participants reported having taken PrEP. PrEP use was highest among young white men, at 13.9 percent. For young Latino men, that figure was cut by more than half, while young black men represented less than 10 percent of people who started PrEP.

“This is not reflective of the HIV epidemic at all,” says Shannon Weber, founder of Please PrEP Me, an online directory of over 230 clinics in California that provide PrEP. “It is reflective about access, and where and how people are getting that information.”

Read the full article.

Why the HIV battle continues for gay men

October 7, 2016

From the Huffington Post

Ace Robinson
Global Health Policy Analyst

September 27th was National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. It’s the day that approximately 80 gay and bisexual men will become infected with HIV. Thirty (30) of those men will be Black. Twenty-five (25) will be White and twenty-one (21) will be Latino. Some of those men will find out about their status very early, will be engaged in competent healthcare, and will live a full productive life while managing this chronic illness. But to this day, that will be the exception and not the rule.

Ace Robinson Global Health Advocate

Like just about all viral illnesses life the flu, treating HIV right away and staying on treatment will not only stop you from getting sicker, but stop you from being able to transmit that virus to others. The same is true for HIV. Last month, Dr. Carl Dieffenbach, Director of the Division of AIDS at the National Institutes of Health confirmed what global experts had been saying for years: “Once you begin therapy and you stay on therapy…you are NOT capable of transmitting HIV to a sexual partner.” It is called Treatment as Prevention (TasP). That is excellent news. But that is only true for 30% of Americans. The vast majority of People Living with HIV (PLWH) are not benefitting from the advances in treatment due to not knowing their HIV status, lacking access to care and treatment, lacking social support, or a mix of all the above.

Of those infected each day in the United States, two-thirds are gay and bisexual men. In vast parts of the USA, gay and bisexual men do not receive the type of needed support to access and stay on treatment which puts them at risk for HIV progression and potentially transmitting the virus to another person. Due to homophobia, some men do not have support from their families, have reduced access to jobs and housing, and have had poor experiences in healthcare settings. That creates the perfect storm for the continued epidemic that has gripped this globe for over 35 years.

Today, we live in an age that PLWH can live nearly their entire expected life span IF they receive sustained treatment. We also live in an age that people can take a daily pill (PrEP) that can prevent HIV infection before exposure. And if that is not enough, we also live in an age that people can take a course of treatment that can prevent HIV infection after exposure(PEP).

But what good does TasP, PrEP, and PEP do if people most at-risk for infection are not aware of it. They are really just a jumble of letters. In my circles, it seems that everyone know about these things. But that’s not the norm. For so many, there is nearly no knowledge of these ways to treat and prevent HIV. A couple of weeks ago, I was in southern Georgia visiting my mother and we went on a mini-vacation to Jekyll Island. I was chatting with a young Black gay man who worked at the local hotel. Eventually, we started chatting about what I do and I off-handedly starting rambling on about PrEP and PEP. If you could have seen the look on his face, you would have thought that I had told him that aliens had landed in Times Square. For that young man, we had failed him. He should have known sooner.

The HIV prevention and treatment toolbox is filling faster today than ever before. But not everyone knows what is in it. Awareness, advocacy, and access will be the ultimate tools in the HIV toolbox to ultimately end HIV in mine and others’ communities. We must strive to continue not only raising awareness, but also advocating for access for gay men who have been disproportionately impacted by HIV for far too long.