Who we are: We are a diverse group of representatives working to enhance HIV prevention and care efforts for Pennsylvania.
What we do: Our work contributes to the development of the HIV Prevention and Care Plan, which implements ongoing objectives and activities to reduce the spread and infections of HIV.
Who we’re looking for: Individuals who are living with HIV; at high‐risk for HIV infection and are: racial and ethnic minorities, between the ages of 14 and 39, and/or transgender; representatives from Ryan White Part B‐D grantees; employees or clients of HIV prevention/testing/PrEP providers; and County/Municipal Health Departments. Applications from all interested candidates will be considered.
Interested applicants may contact Corrine Bozich at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You can also apply to be a member of the HIV Planning Group at: https://tinyurl.com/HPGApplication2019
The application deadline is November 7th.
On World AIDS Day in 2015, AIDS Free Pittsburgh launched as a collective initiative of healthcare institutions and community-based organizations to support those living with HIV/AIDS, and those in high-risk communities. Following the example of San Francisco and New York, the organization set three goals: to increase access to PrEP, to routinize and destigmatize HIV testing, and to put in place a rapid linkage to care for those diagnosed.
One of the major successes of these efforts has been the increased information about and access to PrEP. Dr. Ken Ho, chair of the PrEP subcommittee of AIDS Free Pittsburgh, says, “We’ve developed multiple programs to make PrEP more accessible in Pittsburgh.” He goes on, “My hope is that our efforts will translate to a continued decline in HIV infections.” These efforts have included putting together PrEP toolkits for providers, hosting informational happy hours for pharmacists, and multi-pronged advertising and media campaigns to chip away at the stigma associated with HIV.
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.
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 Root, Ebony, 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.
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
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.
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.