Category Archives: Features

How AIDS remained an unspoken – but deadly – epidemic for years

By the end of 1984, AIDS had already ravaged the United States for a few years, affecting at least 7,700 people and killing more than 3,500. Scientists had identified the cause of AIDS—HIV—and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) identified all of its major transmission routes.

Marchers on a Gay Pride parade through New York City
Marchers on a Gay Pride parade through New York City

Yet, U.S. leaders had remained largely silent and unresponsive to the health emergency. And it wasn’t until September 1985, four years after the crisis began, that President Ronald Reagan first publicly mentioned AIDS.

But by then, AIDS was already a full-blown epidemic.

HIV originated in 1920 in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo. It spread to Haiti and the Caribbean before jumping to New York City around 1970 and California within the decade.

Health officials first became aware of AIDS in the summer of 1981. Young and otherwise healthy gay men in Los Angeles and New York began getting sick and dying of unusual illnesses normally associated with people with weakened immune systems.

It didn’t take long for fear of the “gay plague” to spread quickly among the gay community. Beyond the mortal danger from the disease, they also dealt with potentially being “outed” as homosexual if they had AIDS or an illness resembling it.

In fall 1982, the CDC described the disease as AIDS for the first time. Despite the growing cases and a new name, news outlets struggled with the disease, or at least how to cover it—some even shied away from giving it too much attention. Though the New York Times initially reported on the mysterious illnesses in July 1981, it would take almost two years before the prestigious paper gave AIDS front-page space on May 25, 1983. By that time, almost 600 people had died from it.

David W. Dunlap, a reporter in the Metro section at the time, told the New York Times Style Magazine: “There were strong messages that you got that were not written on any whiteboard. You knew to avoid it. It was a self-reinforcing edict: Don’t write about queers.”

Read the full article on History.

Challenging HIV Stigma

Biomedical advances against HIV since the dawn of the epidemic have been nothing short of astonishing. An almost always fatal disease is now, for those with the privilege of access to treatment, a manageable chronic illness, treated with a single daily pill. A person who acquires HIV today has every reason to expect to live a normal life span.

Sean Strub
POZ Magazine’s founder, Sean Strub

Yet with such astonishing success in treatment, why is HIV stigma worse today than ever before? Why do so many long-term survivors, including many who were exceptionally open about their HIV-positive status for years, find they must now keep it a secret, sometimes going deeply into closets they thought they had left for good years ago?

Many people—especially those who do not have HIV—find these questions startling. That’s because they remember the days when one had to wear a spacesuit to visit a person with AIDS in a hospital or was afraid to eat in a restaurant with gay waiters or refused to touch a person they thought might have the virus.

Read the full article.

HIV research pioneer involved in creation of COVID-19 test for UPMC

Press release from UPMC

UPMC has developed a test for the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — UPMC will use this test to diagnose select, symptomatic cases. The health system plans to rapidly increase capacity at its central laboratory and, if there is a need, could test hundreds of patients per week in the near future, filling a critical gap before other commercial tests come online.

“Developing this test for a never-before-seen virus in the midst of a pandemic was a tremendous challenge, even for our academic medical center with its long history of such developments,” said Alan Wells, M.D., D.M.Sc., medical director of the UPMC Clinical Laboratories and Thomas Gill III Professor of Pathology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “But testing capabilities are absolutely essential to managing a pandemic. If the communities we serve see a surge in severe illnesses, we must be able to diagnose people quickly to give them the appropriate care while protecting our staff and the broader community.”

Additionally, UPMC will begin directing patients with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 to a specimen collection site in Pittsburgh’s South Side neighborhood. The site is not open to the general public. Patients must have a physician referral approved by UPMC’s infection prevention team and an appointment to have their specimen collected for testing by either UPMC or public health authorities.

UPMC will later open additional specimen collection facilities in Harrisburg, Erie, Williamsport and Altoona at an as-yet undetermined date after gaining experience with the South Side facility and after UPMC’s testing capacity increases. […]

The test was created by a virology team led by Tung Phan, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of pathology at Pitt and assistant director of clinical microbiology at UPMC; Charles Rinaldo, Jr., Ph.D., chair and professor of the Pitt Graduate School of Public Health’s Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology and director of the UPMC Clinical Virology Laboratory; and Stephanie Mitchell, Ph.D., assistant professor of pathology at Pitt and director of clinical microbiology at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh. Implementation work was done by Arlene Bullotta, Barbara Harris and Kathy Greenawalt of the Section of Virology at UPMC Clinical Laboratories. “This was a tireless effort by a team dedicated to serving the needs of our patients,” said Wells.

Read the full article on UPMC.com.

LGBTQ Agenda: LGBT people may be at higher risk from COVID-19

From the Bay Area Reporter

More than 100 organizations sent an open letter to medical groups and the news media stating that LGBT people are at greater risk from the novel coronavirus due to other social and medical issues that affect the LGBT community.

Scout is the deputy director of the National LGBT Cancer Network.

Scout is the deputy director of the National LGBT Cancer Network.

Scout, who goes by one name, is a bisexual and trans man who is the deputy director of the National LGBT Cancer Network. That organization took the initiative on drafting the letter, which was released March 11, and gathering co-signers.

Local organizations that signed the letter include Equality California, Horizons Foundation, National Center for Lesbian Rights, the San Francisco LGBT Community Center, and the Transgender Law Center.

The letter highlights three issues that may put LGBTs at greater risk during the COVID-19 epidemic: higher tobacco use than among the general population, higher rates of cancer and HIV-infection, and instances of discrimination on account of sexual orientation and gender identity (COVID-19 is the respiratory disease caused by the novel coronavirus.)

“We’re really concerned because we know that whenever there’s a health issue, the pre-loaded issues in our community create an issue for us,” Scout, a Ph.D., said in a phone interview with the Bay Area Reporter March 16. “We have more social isolation, more smoking. But we know how to offset that. As coronavirus expands so fast, we wanted to let the public health community know we can take steps to avoid another health disparity.”

Read the full article on the Bay Area Reporter Website.

The true story behind the AIDS documentary 5B

From People.com

This was a time when people weren’t even touching patients with HIV,” says Priyanka Chopra, a prominent supporter of the film on behalf of the AIDS charity RED, which will receive 30 percent of all box office proceeds. “They would lay in their soiled bedsheets for days where nobody would come and even enter their room to feed them. At that time, these nurses chose to not think about whether they would live or die and actually the nobility of the profession is what you see in this movie.”

The film, which received a four-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival last month, features the nurses of ward 5B at San Francisco General Hospital who didn’t allow societal ignorance, prejudice and fear curtail their drive to administer compassionate health care to patients who had otherwise been cast aside. These were patients who most health care professionals wouldn’t touch without wearing gloves, even a hazmat suit.

Read the full article.

 

Fighting HIV: Gaps in treatment, testing drive new infections

From Modernhealth.com

An estimated 80% of the nearly 40,000 new HIV infections that occurred in the U.S. in 2016 were transmitted from those who either did not know their diagnosis or were not receiving regular care to maintain their virus at nearly non-transmissible levels, according to health officials.

In a new report, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Monday highlighted the gaps in access to treatment and testing resources that exists within the HIV care continuum. Those gaps have led to a halt in recent years to the progress made over the past two decades in reducing HIV infections.

An estimated 15% of people with HIV don’t know they have the virus, and that population accounted for 38% of all new infection, according to the study. Those who know their HIV status but are not receiving care make up 20% of people living with the virus but account for 43% of new infections.

CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said the epidemic could end over the next few years by expanding access to testing and consistent treatment.

Read the full article.

Dr. Anthony Fauci discusses the case of the London Patient

From NBC News

Dr. Anthony Fauci on MSNBC

Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation’s top HIV/AIDS doctors, cautioned that the highly publicized case of the so-called London Patient — the second person in the world confirmed to be cured of HIV infection — does not mean a widely available cure is on the horizon anytime soon.

“To think that bone marrow transplantation is going to be a scalable, feasible, safe way to treat infections is really, unfortunately, misleading, because it is not,” Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease, said Tuesday on MSNBC.

The ‘London Patient’ was cured of HIV in the process of being treated for a much deadlier disease: Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. This cancer of the lymphatic system can be treated with a risky bone marrow transplant from a donor whose marrow matches. “This was really his last chance of survival,” Dr. Ravindra Gupta, the patient’s doctor, told Reuters.

Watch the video here.

Kofi Annan’s AIDS legacy

From thebody.com

When Mr Annan began his term as the new United Nations Secretary-General in 1997, the outlook for the AIDS epidemic was bleak — some 23.9 million people were living with HIV, there were 3.5 million new HIV infections and access to life-saving treatment was only available to a privileged few.

Kofi Annan, 1938-2018 (Courtesy of UNAIDS)

He cajoled world leaders, humbly, diplomatically, and when the message did not sink in he spoke out publicly and forcefully. “Friends, we know what it takes to turn the tide against this epidemic. It requires every president and prime minister, every parliamentarian and politician, to decide and declare that ‘AIDS stops with me. AIDS stops with me,'” he said.

Under his leadership, in 2000 the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 1308, identifying AIDS as a threat to global security. In 2001, the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS was held — the first-ever meeting of world leaders on a health issue at the United Nations.

In 2000, at a time when less than US$ 1 billion was being invested in the AIDS response, he called for a war chest of at least US$ 7-10 billion for AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria. That call, and his concerted lobbying of world leaders, led to the creation of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which went on to save millions of lives. Mr Annan remained a patron of the Global Fund, helping to ensure that it is fully funded.

Read the full article.

New HIV research findings from AIDS 2018 with NIH’s Dr. Carl Dieffenbach

From AIDS.gov

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).

Watch the video here.

PBS airs series The End of AIDS: Far from Over

PBS NewsHour is airing a series called The End of AIDS: Far from Over from correspondent William Brangham and producer Jason Kane. The five reports describe why, despite major advances in the treatment of HIV and AIDS, places such as Russia, Nigeria and Florida are still struggling to contain the virus.

While the series explores some of the impediments to successful treatment in these places, it also shows promising developments — like several Russians who are promoting treatment and battling discrimination in their communities.

TV Rain news anchor Pavel Lobkov, who went public with his HIV-positive status three years ago, became one of the only public figures in Russia to disclose their status. Lobkov said he wanted to show people that one can live a healthy life with HIV treatment.

Tatiana Vinogradova, deputy director of the St. Petersburg AIDS center, and her husband Andrei Skvortsov, who is living with the virus, appeared in a public ad campaign that says “People with HIV are just like you and me.”

And Alexander Chebin runs an informal network of activists in Russia collecting antiretroviral drugs and mailing them for free to HIV-positive people throughout Russia who can’t otherwise access them.

Here is a look at other efforts that are exploring new treatments or trying to lift the stigma around HIV and AIDS.