Category Archives: Community

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

Health Alert: Beaver County has “notable increases” in new HIV and gonorrhea diagnoses

From thetimesonline.com

The PA Department of Health is reporting an increase in HIV and gonorrhea diagnoses in Beaver County.

However, a lack of willingness to test — combined with the potential spread of the diseases through illegal drug use — raises more questions than answers.

From 2017 through this year so far, the number of new HIV cases has increased “nearly threefold” in county residents compared to the average number of new diagnoses in previous years, according to a Pennsylvania Department of Health advisory issued earlier this month to local medical offices. The increases in HIV infection were predominantly identified in males with the risk factor of men who have sex with men. According to the state health department, four cases of HIV diagnoses were made in 2013, five in 2014 and three in 2015. Zero cases were reported in 2016, but the count may be incomplete because of reporting delays. The state has not yet shared the exact number of new diagnoses for 2017.

Individuals identified with new HIV infections also had a high rate of co-infection with other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), such as syphilis and gonorrhea.

In nearby Allegheny County, 119 new HIV diagnoses were made in 2013, followed by 128 in 2014, 142 in 2015 and 127 in 2016. In Lawrence County, there were three new cases in 2013, five in 2014, five in 2015 and zero in 2016. The latter also may be incomplete because of reporting delays.

Read the full article.

m4mHealthySex.org: Using social media to reach men who have sex with men in Pennsylvania

In a recent study published in the September issue of AIDS Behavior, researchers were able to shed some light on the use of dating aps and Websites by men who have sex with men (MSM). The study showed that 3 in 4 MSM use Internet-based social media venues for the purpose of meeting other men. More than half reported frequent use.

Considering that gay and bi men make up less than 2 percent of the population but account for roughly 70 percent of new HIV infections (based on surveillance data obtained in 2014), and given the recent announcement by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the number of reported chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis infections are at an all-time high in the United States (with gay and bi men making up a disproportionate number of new syphilis infections), it makes sense that gay-related dating aps and Websites would be a logical place to reach out to MSM with important prevention and testing information. In fact, the previously mentioned study’s authors concluded the ability to target MSM through social media “ensures that the right prevention message can be received by the intended audience…and could be an effective strategy for sexual health prevention research, interventions, and communication efforts.”

That’s our mission in a nutshell.

As part of the HIV Prevention and Care Project, and with the experienced input of the Pitt Men’s Study medical staff (both housed within the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health), m4mHhealthySex.org strives to get important health information to the people who need it, via the social media venues they frequent the most. Our sexual health educators reach out on Grindr, Scruff, Jack’d, Adam4Adam and Craigslist, in areas around the state that are particularly hard hit by HIV and other STDs. In 2016, we referred more than 600 MSM in Pennsylvania to free HIV/STD testing, sent a variety of Health Alerts (short bulletins alerting MSM to critical health issues) to more than 8,000 recipients, and added to our archive of 450-plus informative posts concerning HIV and other STDs, PrEP, sexual health and the general wellbeing of men who have sex with men.

Being informed about sexual health can protect you from serious sexually transmitted infections. It can also keep our community healthy and strong. So if you see us online, don’t be afraid to ask questions. You can also browse through our helpful links related to STD/HIV testing, PrEP and general health.

For more information about m4mHealthySex.org, the HIV Prevention and Care Project, and/or sexual health in general, contact us at m4mInformation@pitt.edu. We’re here to help.

PATF changes name to reflect expanded services

From the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force

As of September 26, 2017, Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force will be Allies for Health + Wellbeing! The name change follows a period of significant expansion for the agency and is in keeping with feedback given by current and potential clients. The new name also pays homage to the agency’s founders.

announcementIn 1985, the volunteers who formed the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force were truly allies fighting against HIV/AIDS on a number of fronts. They fought for the dignity, rights and humanity of those were dying of AIDS. They fought against rampant discrimination and fear. These allies fought to prevent HIV transmission by disseminating accurate information to the community and by offering free anonymous screenings.

Today, we continue to be on the side of people living with HIV, working with them to maximize their health and quality of life. From primary medical care to housing, to a food pantry and, soon, onsite mental health services, Allies for Health + Wellbeing delivers integrated services with a holistic approach. We have also expanded services for those at risk of HIV, including Pre-exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), treatment for sexually transmitted infections and viral hepatitis, as well as primary medical care.

With a new name comes a new logo and a whole new brand image. Our new brand image will be unveiled at a launch party on September 26th.

Regional resource for men who havd sex with men

m4mHealthySex.org is a joint effort between the HIV Prevention and Care Project and the Pitt Men’s Study at the Graduate School of Public Health, University of Pittsburgh. Our goal is to provide up-to-date sexual health information for men who have sex with men. You can use the site to find free STD testing in your area (including free HIV testing). You can also locate PrEP providers based on a zip code search. Other site features include an up-to-date blog of news and information related to sexual health and listings of regional health services (including HIV treatment specialists).

Finding LGBT-friendly care  

 

Resources for finding LGBT-friendly care, support and useful information:

• The Human Rights Campaign releases an annual report, “Healthcare Equality Index,” with information on the policies and practices that health care facilities in the United States offer to LGBT patients and their families.

SAGE is a national social service agency dedicated to LGBT seniors, with a free and confidential LGBT Elder Hotline: 888-234-7243.

• The National Resource Center on LGBT Aging offers a wide range of health, policy and legal info on its site, where you can search for local resources by state.

  • The LGBT National Help Center is an online and call-in resource center for information, support and referrals. It includes an online peer-support chat group and a hotline you can call to speak with a volunteer peer counselor: 888-843-4564.

• The Gay and Lesbian Medical Association allows you to search for health care providers in your area.

CenterLink, the Community of LGBT Centers, has a locator where you can find the gay community center nearest to you or your loved one’s home.

• The Metropolitan Community Churches, an international Christian denomination, is particularly welcoming of LGBT people. A staff person at the nearest MCC might be able to recommend appropriate resources in your area.

  • Family Caregiver Alliance offers LGBT caregiving FAQs, as well as a section on “Legal Issues for LGBT Caregivers” and other useful legal resources.

• The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has information about its policies and military benefits for LGBT service members and veterans.

• The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers a range of info on LGBT health issues.

• The American Psychological Association includes some general information on transgender people and gender identity.

• The World Professional Association for Transgender Health has established standards of care for the treatment of gender identity disorders, and offers information on a spectrum of transgender issues, plus a provider search engine.

• The Transgender Law Center fights discrimination, helps transgender people find legal assistance and has updates on related legal news (with some focus on California).

Editor’s note: If you live in Allegheny County, you can find local health resources on our Website in a downloadable pdf file.