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About administrator

University of Pittsburgh Research Assistant and Technical Writer

HIV isn’t just a gay issue, it’s a ‘social justice issue’

From out.com...

Writer and activist George M. Johnson instructs us, on National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, on the role we all play in the search for a cure.

BY TRE’VELL ANDERSON

George M. Johnson

The late activist and writer Joseph Beam once deemed the act of a Black man loving another Black man a “revolutionary act.” I imagine that doing so, while also living unapologetically with HIV, is doubly insurgent. But that’s perhaps the only way to describe the life and work of George M. Johnson. A writer, activist, and soon-to-be author, he’s committed to the work of toppling the patriarchy, challenging anti-Blackness, and confronting homophobia, transphobia, and HIV stigma wherever he sees it.

With over 40,000 Twitter followers and a much larger community that reads his words at Teen Vogue,Entertainment Tonight, The RootEbony, and countless others, Johnson is outspoken and defiantly visible as a Black gay man living with HIV, with which he was diagnosed at 25. Now, he’s set on being the resource he wishes he had when he was younger for other folks who are or might become HIV positive.

On National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, Out spoke to Johnson about his activism, the state of HIV advocacy, and what those living with the virus and those not can do to combat stigma.

Read the full article/interview here.

Experts debate if HIV prevention pill contributes to rise in other STDs

Prevention program manager Adam Weaver talks about sexually transmitted diseases in the testing room at Palmetto Community Care in North Charleston

From postandcourier.com

The STD explosion has led to a debate over a possible connection since the introduction of the HIV prevention pill.

PrEP is not a cure for HIV, and it also is not 100 percent effective, but, taken as directed at the same time once a day, it comes pretty close — up to 99 percent successful in preventing HIV, according to Palmetto Community Care, formerly Lowcountry AIDS Services, in North Charleston.

The drumbeat of safe sex practices hasn’t changed among health officials. Abstinence, using condoms and being in a monogamous relationship are still the best ways to help prevent STD infections.

But the naked truth is people don’t always follow that advice.

“After they start taking PrEP, we don’t see a great shift in risk behavior,” said Aaron O’Brien with Roper Hospital’s Ryan White Wellness Center.

Aaron O’Brien, quality and development manager of Roper Hospital’s Ryan White Wellness Center.

He puts condom users into two groups: those who use them regularly and those who don’t, and, based on his talks with patients, that doesn’t change much once they start taking the pill.

Adam Weaver, prevention program manager at Palmetto Community Care, agrees with O’Brien.

“What we are finding is that the people we are putting on PrEP aren’t changing their condom use,” he said.

They also don’t believe PrEP’s introduction, in and of itself, contributed to the explosion in STDs.

They say it has more to do with better reporting since people taking PrEP must check in with their doctor or provider every three months or so for regular testing.

Read the full article.

HIV drug prices keep rising – Why is no one talking about it?

From thebody.com

The state of the HIV epidemic in the United States is a global embarrassment. Currently, we spend more than any other country per person on domestic HIV treatment, yet by almost every metric, our epidemic is worse than that of other wealthy nations. So why the discrepancy between cost and outcome? The problems are multifactorial, including systemic racism, classism, transphobia, and homophobia. Oddly enough, however, egregious price gouging by the pharmaceutical industry has gotten almost no attention, despite its central role in hampering America’s HIV response. High drug prices distort our nation’s fight against AIDS, forcing the health care system to pay massive markups to pharmaceutical companies and leaving relatively little for other vital services. As a result, we continue to line the pockets of pharmaceutical executives rather than addressing the broad social and environmental barriers to effective HIV treatment and prevention.

Read the full article.

Five ways to flip the script on HIV

From HIVplusmag.com

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s 2017 HIV Surveillance Report, African-Americans represent 41 percent of new HIV diagnoses yet comprise only 12 percent of the U.S. population. In 2018, an article in Journal of Racial and Ethnic Health Disparities offered a five-point “action plan” for community leaders to address and reduce that disparity.

Be Immersive: Although the authors don’t go as far as suggesting all efforts must arise from black communities, they do note the need for work to be done in collaboration with those communities, and for answers to these challenges to be culturally relevant to African-Americans. (Pointing to an “unavailability of access to HIV healthcare and testing,” the researchers also call for “free or reduced-cost testing.”)

Be Nonjudgmental: The authors call for leaders and service providers to work to eliminate prejudices and unconscious biases that may interfere with HIV diagnoses and treatment. After all, they point out, some of the most-impacted populations are those who face stigma, including LGBTQ people, drug users, and those currently or formerly incarcerated. In particular, the researchers call out “cultural HIV/AIDS stigma” and “homo-negativity.”

Be Knowledgeable: The authors stress the importance of understanding “new approaches” to prevention and treatment—clearly referencing the recent consensus that undetectable equals untransmittable (U=U, which shows that once an HIV-positive person in treatment reaches viral suppression they are no longer at risk of transmitting the virus to a partner), and explicitly mentioning the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as a highly effective barrier to transmission.

Be an Advocate: The authors want community leaders to become more vocal in calling attention to the epidemic and its impact on the black community. But that’s just the beginning. The action plan notes that much larger social issues must also be addressed in order to “eradicate secondary factors such as incarceration rates, poverty, STDs, and other factors that increase the chances of contracting HIV.” Essentially, they are calling for intersectional activism.

Be Innovative: The plan says to be “proactive and create solutions that evolve with the times and the changing needs of the affected populations.” Certainly, that includes new technologies and treatments, but the authors also point to innovative programs such as Many Men, Many Voices (3MV), aimed at black men who have sex with men who may or may not identify as gay or bi, in which small groups talk about cultural, social, and religious norms; sexual relationship dynamics; and how racism and homophobia influence HIV risk behaviors.

NIAID review: HIV undetectable = untransmittable

From Gay Star News

HIV positive people with an undetectable viral load cannot sexually transmit HIV. That’s the unequivocal conclusion from one of the leading health agencies in the US.

Researchers from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) undertook a review of recent research. Their conclusion is simple: Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U). It’s the same message now backed by over 300 health agencies all around the world.

The results of the NIAID review were published yesterday in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA). One of the reports co-authors is NIAID Director, Dr Anthony Fauci. He is widely regarded as one of the world’s leading HIV experts.

In a statement, NIAID called evidence for Undetectable = Untransmittable ‘overwhelming’. Not only does getting those diagnosed with HIV on to Antiretroviral Therapy (ART) ensure their long term health. But it also significantly reduces HIV transmission rates. This is because those with the virus suppressed in their body cannot pass it on.

The authors pointed to research that looked at over 77,000 examples of condomless sex between serodiscordant male couples. One half of the couple had HIV and the other did not. There was not a single transmission of the virus from the HIV positive person to the negative person.

Read the full article.

HIV strikes Black gay men more, despite safer behaviors

“Our study illuminates how HIV disparities emerge from complex social and sexual networks and inequalities in access to medical care for those who are HIV-positive,” said senior study author Brian Mustanski. He is director of the Northwestern Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago.

“Their social and sexual networks are more dense and interconnected, which from an infectious disease standpoint makes infections transmitted more efficiently through the group,” Mustanski explained in a university news release.

“That, coupled with the higher HIV prevalence in the population, means any sexual act has a higher chance of HIV transmission,” he added.

If this trend continues, 1 out of every 2 black gay men will become infected with HIV at some point in life, compared to 1 in 5 Hispanic gay men and 1 in 11 white gay men, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In the study, researchers analyzed data from more than 1,000 gay men, aged 16 to 29, in Chicago.

Among their other findings: black gay men were less likely to have close relationships with their sexual partners, more likely to have hazardous marijuana use, and more likely to have experienced more stigma, trauma and childhood sexual abuse. White gay men were more likely to have alcohol problems.

The study was published Dec. 4 in the Journal of Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndromes.

For more information, check out the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Pitt Men’s Study honors 31st annual World AIDS Day

From Pitt News

Rabbi James Gibson stood before a small, quiet congregation in Heinz Chapel Wednesday night with a dedication. “We remember our friends, lovers and spouses,” he said. “Our mothers, fathers, brothers and sisters, daughters and sons lost to HIV and AIDS.” He gave the room permission to rise. “Please come forward and place the names of those for whom you are still aching on the Circle of Love,” he said.

Nearly everyone in the room came forward. They waited in line to reach the front of the chapel and place a sticker on a large white cardboard circle that read “Circle of Love.” Each sticker held a name of a friend or relative who had been lost to AIDS. Some had four or five.

More than 60 attended the commemoration service, sponsored by the Pitt Men’s Study in honor of the 31st annual World AIDS Day. Nearly 40 years after the start of the AIDS crisis, mourners and survivors gathered in memory of those lost to the disease.

The first AIDS patients appeared in New York and California in the early 1980s. Young gay men showed up at doctors’ offices with rare forms of cancer and pneumonia. Slowly, doctors came to the realization that the patients’ immune systems had been compromised by an unknown virus.

Cases began to emerge across the country, including Pittsburgh. Doctors soon knew enough to recognize the symptoms, but there was no name for the disease.

Later, scientists discovered human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, was at the root, attacking the immune system’s T-cells and making the patient extremely susceptible to other types of disease and infection. They put a name to autoimmune deficiency syndrome, or AIDS, the third stage of the virus, when HIV has devastated the immune system.

The Pitt Men’s Study is an investigation into HIV/AIDS that has received funding from the National Institutes of Health since 1984. Its principal investigator is founder Dr. Charles Rinaldo, who chairs the department of infectious diseases and microbiology at Pitt’s School of Public Health. Rinaldo gave a short account of the beginnings of the study, thanking those who had made it possible.

Among those who made it possible were a doctor who identifies as gay and worked on the study as a medical student, and the owners of the Pittsburgh gay bars who allowed Rinaldo and his colleagues to advertise their study.

He also thanked Dr. Jerry Rabinowitz, a victim of last month’s shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue. In the days following the shooting, many remembered Rabinowitz for his treatment of Pittsburgh HIV/AIDS patients in a time when compassionate care was difficult to come by.

“Back in the 1980s, we referred many of our men to his practice,” Rinaldo said.

Rinaldo said he and Bill Buchanan, the clinic coordinator for the Pitt Men’s Study, wrote an obituary for Rabinowitz to appear this December in AIDS, a scientific journal focused on HIV/AIDS.

Above all, Rinaldo thanked study participants. “It was 1982, at the beginning of the epidemic, when fear of AIDS was rampant, when 60 gay men in Pittsburgh answered our hand-drawn recruitment posters,” Rinaldo said. “These 60 men in our pilot study knew we had no treatment or care. They knew we had no magical elixir. Without those 60 men, there would be no Pitt Men’s Study.”

1,736 men have enrolled in the study since 1982, according to Rinaldo. Out of these, 465 have died, most due to complications from AIDS. And although AIDS is no longer a death sentence, there is no cure and the Pitt Men’s Study continues to investigate HIV/AIDS.

Sean DeYoung represented Allies for Health + Wellbeing, the HIV testing location and health center, of which he is CEO. During the service, which was themed “The Changing Face of AIDS,” he spoke about the group’s 2017 decision to change its name from the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force. “The community let us know that the word ‘AIDS’ was too stigmatized,” DeYoung said. “And we weren’t a task force anymore.”

Allies’ mission has expanded since its 1985 beginnings. Then, it existed to provide support and information to the infected in the Pittsburgh area. Now, it offers HIV testing, health care for transgender people and access to PrEP, one of the most reliable methods of HIV prevention.

At the end of the service, some attendees traveled across the street to the basement of the Community of Reconciliation Church, where they caught up with one another at a small reception. For some, like partners Robert Flaherty and Robert Maxin from Emsworth, the service is an annual occurrence. “My partner was part of the original Pitt Men’s Study,” Maxin said. Now, he and Flaherty attend the event nearly every year. Both are HIV positive and both had names to add to the Circle of Love. “I put two up, but I could have easily put up 12 or 15,” Flaherty said