An AIDS-free generation: It seems an audacious goal, considering how the HIV epidemic still is raging around the world.
Yet more than 20,000 international HIV researchers and activists will gather in the nation’s capital later this month with a sense of optimism not seen in many years – hope that it finally may be possible to dramatically stem the spread of the AIDS virus.
“We want to make sure we don’t overpromise,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the National Institutes of Health’s infectious disease chief, told The Associated Press. But, he said, “I think we are at a turning point.”
The big new focus is on trying to get more people with HIV treated early, when they’re first infected, instead of waiting until they’re weakened or sick, as the world largely has done until now. Staying healthier also makes them less likely to infect others.
That’s a tall order. But studies over the past two years have shown what Fauci calls “striking, sometimes breathtaking results,” in preventing people at high risk of HIV from getting it in some of the hardest-hit countries, using this treatment-as-prevention and some other protections.
Now, as the International AIDS Conference returns to the U.S. for the first time in 22 years, the question is whether the world will come up with the money and the know-how to put the best combinations of protections into practice, for AIDS-ravaged poor countries and hot spots in developed nations as well.
“We have the tools to make it happen,” said Dr. Elly Katabira, president of the International AIDS Society, which organizes the world’s largest HIV conference, set for July 22-27. He points to strides already in Botswana and Rwanda in increasing access to AIDS drugs.
But Fauci cautioned that moving those tools into everyday life is “a daunting challenge,” given the costs of medications and the difficulty in getting people to take them for years despite poverty and other competing health and social problems.
In the U.S., part of that challenge is complacency. Despite 50,000 new HIV infections here every year, an AP-GfK poll finds that very few people in the United States worry about getting the virus.
Also, HIV increasingly is an epidemic of the poor, minorities and urban areas such as the District of Columbia, where the rate of infection rivals some developing countries. The conference will spotlight this city’s aggressive steps to fight back: A massive effort to find the undiagnosed, with routine testing in some hospitals, testing vans that roam the streets, even free tests at a Department of Motor Vehicles office, and then rapidly getting those patients into care.
“These are the true champions,” Dr. Mohammed Akhter, director of the city’s health department, said of patients who faithfully take their medication. “They’re also protecting their community.”
A few miles east of the Capitol and the tourist-clogged monuments, the Community Education Group’s HIV testing van pulls into a parking lot in a low-income neighborhood with a particularly high infection rate. An incentive for the crowd at a nearby corner is the offer of a $10 supermarket gift card for getting tested.
Christopher Freeman, 23, is first in line. He was tested earlier this year and says showing off that official paper proclaiming him HIV-negative attracts “the ladies.”
“Forget money, it’s the best thing you can show them,” he said.
But that test was months ago, and Freeman admits he seldom uses condoms. He climbs into the van and rubs a swab over his gums. Twenty minutes later, he’s back for the result: Good news – no HIV. But counselor Amanda Matthews has Freeman go through a list of the risk factors; it’s education to try to keep him and his future partners safe.
“Just try to get yourself in the habit of using condoms,” she said. “You say it’s hard to use condoms but what if you do contract the virus? Then you’ve got to take medications every day.”
Freeman waves his new test result with a grin, and walks off with a handful of free condoms.
At a nearby bus stop, counselor Laila Patrick encounters a little resistance while handing out condoms, when a woman says that encourages sex outside of marriage.
“Stopping AIDS is everyone’s business. You’re looking out for the next person,” Patrick said. “You might just want to help someone be safe.”
About 34 million people worldwide have HIV, including almost 1.2 million Americans. It’s a very different epidemic from the last time the International AIDS Conference came to the United States, in 1990. Life-saving drugs emerged a few years later, turning HIV from a death sentence into a manageable chronic disease for people and countries that can afford the medications.
Yet for all the improvements in HIV treatment, the rate of new infections in the U.S. has held steady for about a decade. About 1 in 5 Americans with HIV don’t know they have it, more than 200,000 people who unwittingly can spread the virus.
Archive for July 9th, 2012
An AIDS-free generation: It seems an audacious goal, considering how the HIV epidemic still is raging around the world.
The Internet has been buzzing this weekend over a reported announcement by Google that it is launching a worldwide push to legalize same-sex marriage. However, the tech giant says its new “Legalize Love” campaign isn’t about gay marriage at all, but rather supporting workers in countries that criminalize homosexuality.
“‘Legalize Love’ is a campaign to promote safer conditions for gay and lesbian people inside and outside the office in countries with anti-gay laws on the books,” said a Google spokesperson in a statement.
The internationally focused campaign will launch Monday at an LGBT conference in London. Ernst & Young and Citigroup have signed on as partners, the spokesperson said.
CNN reports that Legalize Love “will focus on countries such as Singapore, where certain homosexual activities are illegal, and Poland, which has no legal recognition of same-sex couples.”
The confusion over the focus of the campaign appears to have started with a post at Dot429.com, which reported that Google hoped to inspire “countries to legalize marriage for lesbian, gay, and bisexual people around the world.”
Google has a history of supporting gay rights. In 2008, the company’s co-founder and president Sergey Brin came out in opposition to the California Prop 8 ban on same-sex marriage via a post on the company’s blog. In 2010, the company began providing additional compensation to gay and lesbian employees to cover the cost of a tax on domestic-partner health benefits that heterosexual married couples do not pay.
Statement from Google:
Though our business and employees are located in offices around the world, our policies on non-discrimination are universal throughout Google. We are proud to be recognised as a leader in LGBT inclusion efforts, but there is still a long way to go to achieve full equality. Legalise Love is our call to decriminalise homosexuality and eliminate homophobia around the world.
At Google, we encourage people to bring their whole selves to work. In all of our 60 offices around the world, we are committed to cultivating a work environment where Googlers can be themselves and thrive. We also want our employees to have the same inclusive experience outside of the office, as they do at work, and for LGBT communities to be safe and to be accepted wherever they are.
from The Washington Post
The American Red Cross says power outages created by recent storms in the East and Midwest cut blood donations, which were already low this summer. In June there was a nationwide shortfall, with donations down more than 10% across the country.
“We are asking people to please call 1-800-RED-CROSS or visit us at redcrossblood.org to find a way to donate if they can,” said Stephanie Millian, Red Cross director of biomedical communications. “We need people’s help.”
One group that would like to help, but legally can’t, may be moving one step closer to eligibility. Since the 1980s, when the AIDS epidemic decimated their community, gay men — or MSMs (men who have sex with men) as they are called by federal agencies — have not been allowed to donate blood. In June, a group of 64 U.S. legislators led by Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Illinois, and Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, sent a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services encouraging it to move forward with a study that may lead to the end of the decades-old ban.
“We remain concerned that a blanket deferral of MSM for any length of time both perpetuates the unwarranted discrimination against the bisexual and gay community and prevents healthy men from donating blood without a definitive finding of added benefit to the safety of the blood supply,” the letter said.
“This is a matter of life and death and we are turning away over 50,000 healthy men who want to donate blood,” Quigley told CNN. “A straight person who has unsafe sex with multiple partners can give blood, and that creates a greater risk than a gay person in a monogamous relationship.”
The policy started at a time when people didn’t know how the deadly virus that causes AIDS spread. At the time, there wasn’t a good test to detect whether HIV was present in donated blood, and HIV was getting into the nation’s blood supply. They knew this because hemophiliacs who were getting blood transfusions started showing symptoms of AIDS. What scientists also knew was that a disproportionate number of gay men were affected by the virus.
To eliminate risk, the Food and Drug Administration added a screening question to the federal guidelines. Blood banks were instructed to ask male donors if they had had sex with a man, even once, since 1977. The FDA regards 1977 as the beginning of the AIDS epidemic in the United States. If the potential donor responded “yes,” he would automatically be removed from the donor pool for life.
No similar questions were asked to screen out donors who engaged in other potentially risky sexual behavior. Donors weren’t asked about the number of partners they had, nor were they asked if their sexual partners had engaged in unprotected sex with other HIV positive partners.
“While the Red Cross is obligated by law to follow the FDA guidelines, we continue to work with the AABB (formerly known as the American Association of Blood Banks) to push through policies that would be much more fair and consistent among donors who engage in similar risk activities,” Millian said.
Scientists can now screen for most instances of HIV within days of infection, and the nation’s blood banks have called a lifetime ban “medically and scientifically unwarranted.”
Men who have sex with men still are disproportionately affected by the virus and account for nearly half the approximately 1.2 million people living with HIV in the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But it is a person’s behavior, not their sexual orientation, that puts them at risk say health experts.
While he is a gay man, Adam Denney thinks he would be the perfect candidate to donate blood. He doesn’t use IV drugs. He practices safer sex. He even educates people on how to prevent new HIV infections as a regular volunteer educator with AIDS Volunteers Inc. in Lexington, Kentucky. He thinks his exclusion is unfair.
“Yes, gay men are still a high-risk community, but so are minority women, and there are no standards prohibiting them from donating. There would be rightful outrage against that kind of blanket population ban,” Denney said. “I am banned based on one reason only, my sexual orientation. It’s totally discriminatory.”
When Denney went to donate at a blood drive on the Eastern Kentucky University Campus a few years ago, he said he knew what likely would happen when the nurses asked the sexual history question. “I did know what I was getting into, but I was shocked by how it felt to be rejected,” he said. “It was almost like they thought I wasn’t important enough to give blood, like because I was gay I didn’t count. It was a horrible feeling.”
BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS – Democratic Representative Barney Frank wed his longtime partner, James Ready, on Saturday, becoming the first sitting congressman to enter into a same-sex marriage.
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick officiated the ceremony and added some levity by saying Frank, 72, and Ready, 42, had vowed to love each other through Democratic and Republican administrations alike, and even through appearances on Fox News, according to Al Green, a Democratic congressman from Texas.
“Barney was beaming,” said Green, who attended the ceremony. He added that Frank, a champion of gay rights and the sweeping reform of Wall Street, shed a tear during the ceremony.
After exchanging their vows, Frank and Ready embraced each other, Green said. “It was no different than any other wedding I’ve attended when you have two people who are in love with each other,” Green said.
Frank, a Massachusetts Democrat and a former chairman of the powerful House Financial Services Committee, has been an openly gay congressman since the late 1980s.
He is well known for his legislative acumen, including as an architect of the reforms in the Dodd-Frank bill, which President Barack Obama signed into law in 2010 in the wake of the financial crisis following the collapse of the sub-prime mortgage market.
Frank’s office in January announced he would marry Ready, whom he met at a political fundraiser in Ready’s home state of Maine. Ready lives in Ogunquit, where he does carpentry, painting and welding work. Frank and Ready have been involved since 2007.
The evening wedding took place at the Boston Marriott Newton in suburban Boston, attracting political luminaries including Nancy Pelosi, top Democrat in the House of Representatives, and Niki Tsongas, a Massachusetts Democratic representative.
Before the ceremony, Frank greeted family and friends in a traditional black tuxedo. He was tanned and appeared relaxed. News media were not allowed to attend the ceremony.
“We’re not doing any media today,” Frank told Reuters.
Frank won a seat in Congress in 1980 and said he will retire at the end of the current term. Besides championing financial reform and the rights of fisherman, Frank has been a vocal supporter of gay rights, which have been gathering support in public opinion polls and high courts.
In May, for example, a federal appeals court in Boston ruled that a U.S. law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman unconstitutionally denies benefits to lawfully married same-sex couples.
The ruling on the 1996 law, the Defense of Marriage Act, marked a victory for gay rights groups and President Obama, whose administration announced last year it considered the law unconstitutional and would no longer defend it.
Also in May, President Obama openly endorsed gay marriage, a move that will surely be a flashpoint in the upcoming presidential election.
His Republican opponent, former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, opposes gay marriage, saying marriage should be limited to a union between one man and one woman.
Eight of the 50 states and the District of Columbia permit gay marriage. Several polls show public support of gay marriage rising.
In 2004, Massachusetts became the first state in the country where same-sex couples could be legally married. More than 18,000 same-sex couples since then have wed in Massachusetts, according to MassEquality, an advocacy group for gays, bisexuals and transgender people.
Barney Frank To Marry Longtime Partner
Barney Frank To Retire
Barney Frank Sees Gay Equality “In My Lifetime”
Rep. Frank Says DC Gay Rights March “A Waste Of Time”