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
Advances in HIV prevention and program implementation were among the topics in the spotlight at the 22nd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2018) this week. Eugene McCray, MD, Director of CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention (DHAP)
reflects on some of the conference highlights. The division he oversees works to prevent HIV infections and reduce the incidence of HIV-related illness and death across the United States. Read more about their work.
During a live interview on Facebook, Dr. McCray discussed research being presented by CDC researchers at the conference, other HIV prevention research findings shared here at the conference, and shares his personal reflection on what how it feels like to be at this conference at this stage of the epidemic.
The first full day of sessions at the 22nd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2018) in Amsterdam was filled with new scientific findings shared by researchers from around the world. In a Facebook Live interview with HIV.gov, Carl Dieffenbach, Ph.D., discussed highlights of three studies presented today at the conference, including:
- an update on a potential association between the HIV treatment medication dolutegravir and birth defects;
- additional research on the effectiveness of HIV treatment as prevention among gay male serodifferent couples; and
- a study on whether there may be drug-drug interactions between PrEP and feminizing hormone therapy for transgender women.
Dr. Dieffenbach is the Director of the Division of AIDS at NIH’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).
As the 22nd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2018) got underway in Amsterdam, HIV.gov began their coverage of HIV research advances and other conference highlights with an interview of Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. Dr. Fauci is the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the NIH.
The International AIDS Conference is the largest conference on any global health issue in the world. First convened during the peak of the AIDS epidemic in 1985, it continues to provide a unique forum for the intersection of science, advocacy, and human rights. According to its organizers, each conference is an opportunity to strengthen policies and programs that ensure an evidence-based response to the epidemic.
The theme of AIDS 2018 is “Breaking Barriers, Building Bridges,” drawing attention to the need of rights-based approaches to more effectively reach key populations. AIDS 2018 aims to promote human rights based and evidence-informed HIV responses that are tailored to the needs of particularly vulnerable communities – including people living with HIV, displaced populations, men who have sex with men, people in prisons and other closed settings, people who use drugs, sex workers, transgender people, women and girls and young people – and collaborate in fighting the disease beyond country borders.
National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, observed every year on February 7, is a good time to remind the general public of the racial disparities in HIV infection that persist in the United States. Year after year, African-Americans continue to shoulder the heaviest burden of HIV.
According to Millett, to effectively address the racial disparities in the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S., we need to continue raising awareness about how HIV
disproportionately affects the black community, urge our policymakers to prioritize HIV prevention and treatment resources to the hardest hit communities, such as black gay men, and improve care for HIV-positive black women and injecting drug users.“If you don’t have access to healthcare and you’re HIV-positive, you’re less likely to be on medication or virally suppressed, and therefore more likely to transmit HIV,” said amfAR vice president and director of public policy Greg Millett. “We also have to do a better job of reducing HIV stigma because it keeps people from being tested for HIV, and it keeps people who are HIV-positive from seeking care because they’re afraid they’ll be discriminated against. And that is what continues to fuel the epidemic.”
Discrimination, stigma, poverty, and lack of access to healthcare contribute to the disproportionate burden of HIV among black Americans. This is most notably the case in regions with large black populations like the American South where approximately half of the nation’s new HIV infections occur, with black Americans accounting for nearly 80 percent of them. In general, African-Americans are less likely than whites to have private health insurance.
Hundreds gathered at the WQED studios in Oakland on Thursday, April 14th at a fundraiser to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force. The evening’s honoree, Dr. Anthony Silvestre received the prestigious Kerry Stoner Award in recognition of his extraordinary efforts in the fight against HIV and AIDS.
Dr. Silvestre became an integral part of the Pitt Men’s Study—a groundbreaking research project at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health—in the early days of the AIDS epidemic. Silvestre, known for his experience in community organization, recruited 4,000 participants from the greater Pittsburgh area—the vast majority of whom would spend the next 33 years donating blood and answering in-depth sexual health questions as a means to understand and therefore combat the disease. The Pitt Men’s Study played a key role in research that not only helped determine how the virus was spread, but also the effectiveness of modern anti-viral medications (also known as HAART).
In addition to the Kerry Stoner Award, Silvestre also received a citation honoring his achievements in combating HIV/AIDS statewide from the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
“People don’t realize that this disease is still tragically affecting many—with young black gay kids at a rate as high as in some developing nations. Those who are marginalized by race, age and sexual orientation are not on anyone’s agenda and, as a result, are often left out of the health care system,” Silvestre commented at the event. “That’s why we need organizations like PATF and the Pitt Men’s Study.”
For most of his adult life, Silvestre was central to the LGBTQ community in Southwestern Pennsylvania, lending his skills and experience to effect positive change for marginalized communities. In addition to his efforts with the Pitt Men’s Study, he worked to establish a Center for LGBT Health Research within the Graduate School of Public Health and is currently the co-director of the HIV Prevention and Care Project—an organization also within the University that provides technical assistance to the Pennsylvania Department of Health in creating a state-wide response to the AIDS epidemic.
The Kerry Stoner Award is presented annually to honor a person who has, through a longtime dedication to Pittsburgh AIDS Task Force’s mission, shown commitment to Kerry Stoner’s legacy and vision. Stoner, a tireless HIV/AIDS activist who died of complications from AIDS in 1993, was a founder and the first Executive Director of the PATF.
The PATF 30the anniversary event raised over $100,000 in support of people living with HIV/AIDS and in support of the PATF HIV prevention programs.