Home HIV Test now available
September 26th, 2012
Tomorrow is National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day. So it’s appropriate to announce that the OraQuick home HIV test is now available at CVS, Rite-Aid, Walgreens drugstores, along with Kroger and Walmart. And if it hasn’t been distributed to your local store, you can get it online directly form OraQuick.
Although it’s priced a little higher than I was hoping, at $39.99 it is still affordable to many who should get tested but who are either afraid of the intrusive and highly personal questioning that some testing centers employ or who never find a ‘convenient time’ to get to a center.
And for those who don’t have an extra $40 (and unknown HIV infection disproportionately impacts those who are less economically advantaged), in a week I’ll revisit my suggestion for a new October tradition.
The Republican Convention, circa 1992
August 29th, 2012
20 years ago, at another Republican National Convention, Mary Fisher stood up to say that “the AIDS virus is not a political creature” and challenged her party to see her as “one with the lonely gay man sheltering a flickering candle from the cold wind of his family’s rejection.”
It’s not far-fetched to believe that George W. Bush’s record on worldwide HIV/AIDS (called PEPFAR, the “President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief”) was partly inspired by this amazing speech given when his father was up for re-election. In 2012, however, “HIV” and “AIDS” do not exist in the party platform in terms of US-based efforts (PEPFAR’s focus is Africa); instead, where the platform mentions publicly-funded research it says that “research must consider the special needs of formerly neglected groups” and lists things like “breast and prostate cancer, diabetes and other killers.” If HIV/AIDS were implied here, it is at the very least unclear and, by any reckoning, an obvious repudiation of Mary Fisher’s call to action.
This year, the Log Cabin Republicans in their most recent National Update in July had this to say:
As Republicans it is time to recommit to the defense of life and liberty and renew the fight against the HIV/AIDS epidemic. This month the International AIDS Conference was held in Washington, DC, focusing on the need to fight complacency, particularly among gay and bisexual men. Despite medical advances, LGBT minorities continue to be devastated by the crisis. While GOP leaders work to rein in government spending, funding for HIV/AIDS programs should remain the priority they were to the Bush administration.
Strong words and yet, thus far in Tampa, not a word has been breathed about HIV/AIDS. The focus for LCR in addition to a full page ad in Tampa has instead been on marriage equality.
Dr Semugoma (a.k.a. GayUganda) on LGBT Invisibility in the Fight Against HIV/AIDS
August 9th, 2012
Yesterday, I posted a video interview of Dr. Paul Semugoma (many of you know him as GayUganda) talking about the challenges of confronting HIV/AIDS in a country with such rampant homophobia that it is dangerous for LGBT people to disclose themselves to their doctors. Dr. Semugoma also spoke at a plenary session at the International AIDS Conference in Washington D.C. on July 27, discussing “The Dynamics of the Epidemic in Context,” the particular context being that in many governments around the world are unwilling to address the reality that gay men exist in their countries.
In addition to the video above, you can find an error-laden transcript of his talk here(PDF: 160KB/55 pages). While Dr. Semoguma had come out in Facebook and other social media, this was his coming-out moment, quite literally, on the world stage (at about the 3:15 mark):
Men who have sex exist with men, everywhere. You know, it’s kind of interesting to start like that. When we talk about men who have sex with men, actually I am also a man who has sex with men. [applause.] It’s a major and important point to point out that men who have sex with men exist everywhere. If we say that they don’t exist then we don’t know how to deal with them, we don’t know how to get to the challenges that we have in HIV prevention with them.
He then described a pivotal moment in his life which showed him that the epidemic would never be dealt with successfully unless gay and bisexual men are included in HIV-prevention messages (at about the 4:35 mark):
I want to tell you a story about the patient who changed my life. This was in 2004. I was by then a medical doctor. I had studied in two medical schools, that is at Muhimbili Medical Center in the University of Dar es Salaam and I had also studied at Makerere University. I had a bit of work up country, and then I’d gone back to Kampala, which is the capital city of Uganda, to start work in private practice.
As I said, I’m a gay man. I had been dealing with HIV amongst Ugandans and I knew it was a disease that is spread by sex, but I had not been confronted by then by the fact that HIV is also spread by gay sex. I didn’t have that link. So I was faced by this guy. He was gay. I knew him. He had bisexual practices meaning he used to sleep with men and at some point in time he had slept with women. And He had been recently diagnosed with HIV.
One of the things that he told me was, “One of my lovers must have slept with a woman.” I was like, “You didn’t sleep with a woman at this particular point, you must have got it from your lover.” But his point was since I’ve been seeing all these nice photos of men and women and the government telling us, “Be careful, love carefully.” These are the ones who spread HIV; it is the women who give it to us. But he also asked me a question: how do I protect my lovers? And that was the question that changed my life. I knew at that particular moment that I didn’t know how to protect him, how to give him the information, how to tell him to protect his lovers, and that was the changing point because I then discovered that because I didn’t know, I was ignorant. I was in sort of denial because I was a gay man and I am still a gay man. I just needed to know.
I had access to the internet and I quickly educated myself, something which we all have to do. It is important that we leave from being just friendly to MSM, to men who have sex with men, to being competent in care. [applause]
This ignorance and denial it didn’t happen just with me. It is also with everybody. Just a few months ago, about three months ago in Uganda the first LGBT clinic was opened by one of the groups, one of the LGBT groups. They were saying that, well, we do not have a clinic, the doctors don’t really know the problems that we have and we need a clinic. They got funding (very good) put the clinic in Kampala (very good) and then made sure that the government
Then, what touched me was that three doctors were asked in Uganda. “What do you think about this?” They were saying, “We do not discriminate because we are doctors,” which is fantastic. Then, they said, “We do not discriminate because we do not ask about sexual orientation.” Now, if you do not ask about sexual orientation then that means that you are not aware that men who
have sex with men actually come and sit with you in the consultation room, and that men who have sex with men actually have a higher risk of HIV. [ applause]
This ignorance is part of what is there. We have to ask ourselves the question. Are we going to an AIDS-free generation without including MSM? Actually the answer from the science that we have is that no, we are not going to do that.
Dr. Semugoma then gave an overview of the populations most at risk, including not only gay men, but also within the gay community, black gay men. And he also discussed the general problems of reaching “pariah” communities in different countries, including here in the U.S., Canada, and Britain. He then returned his attention back to Africa and the structural barrier that those of us who have been following events in Uganda are all too aware of: criminalization (at about the 15:00 mark):
Criminalization. I have heard this over and over again. You are dealing with a criminal population and the criminal population somehow seems to not be citizens, somehow seem not to fit to have intervention, somehow they just don’t seem to deserve the attention that others get even in HIV prevention.
This is the relationship between criminalization and sex practices. Untargeted expenditure. This is for HIV programming. We saw that HIV burden is actually higher amongst MSM but what actually happens when the monies for HIV
prevention go to the countries there’s attenuation. Less and less gets to the MSM because of the stigma, because they are criminals.
…This case study is of Senegal. Senegal is a country in West Africa has an epidemic which is concentrated amongst MSM. They actually were one of the first African countries to do an MSM-targeted HIV prevention effort. They did a study, which I was very happy to come across in 2004. They saw that they have a concentrated epidemic with HIV 20 times higher amongst the MSM than in the general population. They did comprehensive outreach in place for MSM.
In 2008, we had this ICASA, ICASA is the equivalent of AIDS meeting for Africa. During that ICASA, they actually came to tell the rest of the country about what was happening that they are doing some HIV prevention amongst the highest risk population in Senegal. After ICASA, nine outreach workers were arrested and prosecuted. They were released April 2009. They had been convicted of spreading homosexuality most likely. The issue was that happening actually almost destroyed the HIV outreach amongst the highest risk population in Senegal.
Now, let’s talk about my country, Uganda. Uganda had a study done in 2008, a study done in Kampala. The HIV rate was almost 14 percent, but it’s 13.7 percent amongst MSM in Kampala, compared to a rate of 4.4-percent amongst other men in Kampala, which actually means that this was a high-risk population. During the time of the study the Director General of Uganda AIDS, the national program, said that for the first time he actually admitted that MSM exists in Uganda — which was a positive — but he said we are not going to deal with them.
Now, what happened is that some of us decided that no, this was a bit too much and we had the Implementers’ Meeting happening in Uganda, and we decided to come and storm the meeting and held a five minute protest. What happened after that was that some of us were arrested and they continued to be prosecuted for demanding for HIV prevention program amongst MSM in Uganda. For demanding for an HIV prevention program amongst a vulnerable population in Uganda. That’s why there were prosecuted.
Now, this had an effect on the study which was happening in Kampala at that time. Those people were studying the respondents, that MSM were not coming to the study, the respondents who are not coming. The recruitment dipped, it recovered sometime later, but then dipped again, because Uganda unfortunately is a very highly homophobic country. They got about 300 respondents, which in six months was very few homosexuals, compared to Kenya, compared to Tanzania, compared to Zanzibar. In two months they’ll get 500 people. In the first study in Kenya they actually had to stop the study, because in Nairobi they were getting more than 500 gay people.
Now, Uganda has definitely been one of the worst offenders in HIV prevention for MSM. They want to ban the agencies which work for gay rights. That was about last month I think. And the LGBT clinic, it needs to be shut. All this homophobia is actually happening when we have a study done with folks that we have a vulnerable population, which actually is responding to the homophobia in the country. Okay, HIV prevalence amongst the MSM was related to external homophobia.
Dr. Semugoma ended his talk with a stirring call to action, which hinged on increased visibility of gay men and the elimination of homophobia, anti-AIDS stigma, and ignorance about HIB/AIDS. He also remembered that the advocacy fights to achieve those aims are not without cost (at the 26:30 mark):
Now, I wanted to acknowledge the fact that a lot of people have helped me to prepare this speech, but I remembered that I can acknowledge also those people who have lost this fight, I mean who have been killed, the price of advocacy. Advocates are beaten, they are arrested, they are killed. I just wanted to remember these few, Alim Mongoche in Cameroon; Steve Harvey in Jamaica, David Kato in Uganda, Thapelo Makutle in South Africa [applause].
One of my most enduring memories of David Kato is of him when we went into the Implementers’ Meeting when he wanted to engage the speakers, and then running very fast on this big road with the police behind him. They wanted to arrest him because we had barnstormed the Implementers’ Meeting.
Many stories are untold and unreported. It is tough to achieve comprehensive HIV prevention and treatment in this context, but it has been done. It has been done before. It is being done now. It is going to be done again. We have tried and they continue to try.
At the end of his talk, he acknowledged his partner, whose name I did not catch. But it was very heartwarming to see him lean into the microphone and say, out loud, “I love you.”
Uganda’s Dr Semugoma: Optimistic and Living With Hope
August 8th, 2012
Longtime BTB readers will recall our good friend, the anonymous blogger GayUganda. To get you caught up to date, he’s no longer blogging and he’s no longer anonymous. Meet Dr. Paul Semugoma:
Dr. Semugoma was in Washington D.C. for the International AIDS Conference last month. In this video he talks about the barriers to AIDS prevention caused by homophobia and discrimination — a situation that he says is exacerbated by the influence of American anti-gay evangelicals in Uganda. He points out that Uganda’s anti-gay laws currently are virtually identical to those of Kenya and Tanzania, both of which border Uganda and are also, like Uganda, former British colonies. Yet Kenyan and Tanzanian HIV/AIDS prevention efforts include special programs for those nations’ LGBT communities, while Ugandan authorities claim, falsely, that similar efforts in Uganda are prohibited by law. Dr. Semugoma makes the case that this stance works against the interests of the entire country, not just LGBT people.
At about the 7:00 mark, Dr. Semugoma talks about his own process of coming out recently and the difficulties that poses in his country and in his practice. Before coming out, he had been using his standing as a medical doctor to provide medical-based arguements for a more inclusive approach to HIV prevention and treatment. But even doing that generated questions about his sexuality, questions that he has only recently been answering. He is also preparing to move to South Africa where he can live without the kinds of fears and stresses that he experiences in Uganda.
Toward the end of the video, he describes further the obstacles that UGanda’s government places on prevention efforts. He describes the case of an HIV/AIDS clinic that recently opened in Kampala with the mission of providing care for LGBT citizens. The government moved to close the clinic because it “promoted homosexuality.” Doctors in the country joined the government in saying that the clinic was not needed because they don’t discriminate against LGBT people if they don’t ask about sexual orientation:
At the same time, doctors were asked, Ugandan doctors, that, “Do you think this clinic is necessary?” And to them it was not necessary, and their reason was, “We do not discriminate because we do not ask patients about their sexuality.” In actual fact that shows their ignorance because for a doctor to sit with their patient and to be able to counsel you about your HIV prevention needs, I need to know your sexual practices. So if you’re going to talk to a gay person like you’re going to talk to a heterosexual person, then you are missing the point. You’re going to advise him to use condoms, while he actually needs condoms and a water-based lubricant. You’re going to advise him to get married and stick to his partner when in actual fact he cannot get married in the country. You are going to advise him to be faithful and abstain, and he will think in his mind, “I abstain until when?” because he cannot get married. That is the kind of problems, structural issues, that are there.
He says that we have the medical knowhow and the tools to end the epidemic. The problem is not medical, but structural. He nevertheless closed on a note of optimism. Five years ago, the LGBT community was invisible. Now people know that it’s there. “I am optimistic. I mean, I am a human being and I think we live with hope.”
A proposal for rolling out universal testing
July 20th, 2012
Yesterday I told you about something that Phill Wilson, Executive Director of the Black AIDS Institute said that inspired me to start thinking of HIV transmission as being something we can bring to a stop. But Wilson said something else that made me less happy.
Neither Black America nor the LGBT community has made the fight against AIDS among Black gay men a priority.
Sadly, that too is true. For far too long the gay community has pretended that one size fits all and that what’s good for gays is good for black gays. And we have chosen not to notice that merely identifying a program as being targeted at gays well make it a program that alienates many black men who have sex with other men, regardless of how they identify.
So it is fitting that we take the first steps toward full knowledge about HIV infection in the community in America that is hardest hit, the African American community. But I don’t make this suggestion out of some altruistic notion or that it’s ‘their turn’; rather, I have very pragmatic reasons. For a roll-out of a universal testing program to be effective, the following two criteria must be met:
1. The first phase must have high, nearly universal, participation
2. The first phase must show dramatic results.
We live in a divided society in which support of a program – any program – by one segment of society virtually guarantees opposition by another. And, as the First Lady’s nutrition efforts show, including “everyone” only fractures your target population. Any roll-out that starts with a diverse demographic – say “all the residents of Memphis” – is designed to fail. Far too many people would immediately go to “oh that’s just the gays” and once that definition was established participation would not be much other than the usual gays and supporters.
I don’t want to support a program that is designed to fail. We have to think outside of the parameters of lines on a map. And we must be willing to think pragmatically.
Racial identity is a self-selection that allows for nearly complete inclusion. African American is an identity that includes Larry Elder and Al Sharpton, the richest businessman and the poorest indigent. It is an “us” that is stronger than economic or political boundaries. And HIV disproportionately impacts the black community – and by disproportionately, I mean HUGE disparity – a fact that is increasingly becoming known within all segments of African American society. It is much less “gays get that” and becoming understood that “this is a problem in our community”. I believe that African Americans are one of the few demographics that could coalesce around this project at its inception and make it work.
And the results of an effective testing program within the African American community would impressive. So impressive, I believe, that expanding the program would be a given. Where as in the nation as a whole, the rate of unknown infection is between a quarter and a third of those infected, about sixty percent of African Americans with HIV are unaware of their status.
If we could give some discrete population of black men and women the knowledge of their HIV status and access to the tools to address transmission, I believe that this knowledge would result in a precipitous drop in the spread of the virus. And I believe this drop would be the result needed to convince our population that HIV transmission can be stopped and that the effort to stop it is well worth the expense.
Yesterday I discussed the tools we have that could stop the transmission of HIV, all of which are based on knowledge about one’s serostatus. Today I offer the following for consideration, keeping in mind that our task is testing for HIV infection but our goal is stopping the transmission of the virus altogether.
Suppose that the target population selected were the black community in Washington DC. And suppose that a program was created in which every African American in the city who was sexually active – or had been in the past decade, or intended to be in the next – were to take an HIV test whether they were a girrrrrrl or the right reverend bishop at the First Church of Abstinence. And suppose that in subsequent years it were continued to those who were sexually active. And suppose that a firm commitment was made to find funding to provide care for the newly diagnosed who lacked financial ability.
Estimating 250,000 African American residents of sexual activity age, a three-year testing program would cost less than ten million dollars (cost of care is a separate concern – one which should be considered whether a testing program is established or not).
With one of the highest HIV rates in the nation, along with one of the most rapidly increasing HIV populations, this could be an ideal test location. If, as I believe, the rate of increase dropped precipitously over two or three years of testing – especially if compared to other major urban centers – it would take very little persuasion to convince politicians that this is a very cost effective long term solution.
Selling this idea would not be easy. It would require laying down political and religious mistrust and posturing. And it would require that heterosexist presumptions about “who gets it” be discounted.
But I believe that if every black senator and congressman, every local preacher or official, and the President himself took the lead it could be possible. And if neighbors and community provided encouragement (not taking “no” as an acceptable answer), it could be possible. And if (but only if) the churches got behind it, it could be possible. And if employers supported the effort with on-site participation, it could be possible. And if obviously not-at-risk church ladies set the example, and shamed the rest, it could be possible. And if service agency made testing part of their program for those not included through usual means, it could be possible. And finally, and most importantly, if this is not some outsider coming in to tell blacks what to do but instead if it could somehow be made part of a black identity – led by black people and directed to speak to black people about stepping up for the community – it could be possible.
And remember, our goal is not “test the blacks in DC”, this is just our initial demographic. It is just the first step in rolling out this project to the broader populace.
Perhaps the next step is to target the other half of of DC’s population and see if we could get close to 100% testing in the entire city. If the results are as I think they would be in our roll-out demographic, it would be an easier plan to sell. While I think that if we start with the entire population of DC we would get very little participation from most congressmen thus starting with an image of failure, the success we establish from the roll-out should result in a much higher degree of high-level participation thereafter. And after DC, on to a small state – perhaps Maryland. And so on.
This is just one proposal. Others may have better ideas. Perhaps there is a better demographic in which nearly universal participation could be achieved and in which the results would be dramatic.
But, for the first time since I first heard of this virus on the news as a scared college kid, it is now not only possible but feasible and practical to stop it in its tracks. If we have the resolve to do so.
We can stop the further transmission of HIV
July 19th, 2012
The Black AIDS Institute has released a new publication in which they detail the statistics relating to HIV infection within the black gay and bisexual community. But while the report is very grim (and I’ll discuss that separately), Executive Director Phill Wilson said something that surprised me in its forthrightness:
There is hope, however. New evidence indicates that antiretroviral treatment reduces the odds of HIV transmission by 96%, leading preeminent scientific experts to advise that the tools now exist to end the AIDS epidemic – for all populations, and in all settings.
As I thought about this, I realized that it’s true. We have the technical ability to ensure that the transmission of HIV from infected to uninfected persons stops. Entirely.
Currently, nearly all cases of seroconversion are due to sexual activity. And while moralists are correct that “if sex was limited to marriage” the virus would be halted, that is not a realistic plan (or one that is based in finding a way to reduce transmission). And while “everybody must use a condom every time” was for a time the only possible approach, it is evident that it is not and will not be the plan that eliminates transmission.
There are a number of reasons that “condoms every time” fails. Discomfort, inconvenience, the awkwardness of sexual negotiation. But the most significant reason, the single largest contributor to the spread of HIV, is personal ignorance about HIV status.
Sure there are some totally amoral bastards who hide behind “It’s your responsibility to protect yourself and I have no obligation to divulge my status” and a few on the opposite side who find a thrill in the risk of the unknown. But most people who are positive take steps not to pass on the virus and those who are negative do engage in some measures (though not always wise or effective) to minimize exposure, even if that step is limited to asking and placing too much reliance on the answer.
But one thing keeps transmission rates steady or increasing year after year. One thing we can halt: ignorance.
The key to stopping HIV is knowledge. The CDC estimates that between a quarter and a third of those who are HIV positive are not aware of their serostatus. And that is a reality that we could end – if we have the resolve to do so.
In British Columbia, officials have announced a new goal and allocated funding for it. (globeandmail)
Saying it is now possible to end HIV/AIDS, medical experts in British Columbia have launched a four-year, $48-million pilot program aimed at detecting and treating the disease faster.
The goal is to test everyone in the province who has ever been sexually active.
The sweeping approach is an attempt to catch the estimated 1 per cent of people who are unaware they are HIV-positive and aren’t taking advantage of an effective treatment program that is available provincially.
This is the right approach and we should find a way to implement it globally.
Of course, British Columbia only has 4.4 million people and universal health care so it’s not as easy as insisting that every state, province and nation follow suit. But testing is inexpensive and highly accurate. For less than $20 per person (BC is only spending $10) we could identify nearly every HIV positive person in our city, state, nation.
Even in states and countries in which there is insufficient postconversion medical care, even if this would place a burden of dread on those diagnosed, there would be knowledge. And knowledge would reduce future transmissions. (And surely we care as much about the physical health of the person who would be saved from seroconversion as we do about the mental health of the newly diagnosed.)
But knowledge is not the only key to complete elimination of future transmissions. We also have the tools to stop transmission when knowledge is ignored or when accidents occur.
Highly active antiretroviral therapy, or HAART, is a combination of three or four separate drugs that prohibit various steps of HIV replication (what we used to call a “drug cocktail”) and is highly effective. The vast majority of those who consistently use this process reduce replication of the virus within their system to the point where it is “undetectable”. And with the reduction in viral load comes a reduction in transmittablity – possibly to the point where the virus cannot be transmitted through sexual activity.
It is true that many HIV infected people do not have funds – or insurance – to pay for a medicine regimen. But there are programs established which are designed specifically to assist such people and when exact numbers can be provided it will be politically difficult for officials to intentionally deny funding for specific individuals who can be identified.
On the other side of the equation, the Food and Drug Administration has just approved the use of an AIDS drug for preventative measures. Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is only currently advised for those who are at highest risk (and as yet with unidentified means of paying for such a drug) and we cannot know the extent to which this will diminish transmission, but it could play a significant role if prioritized and adequately funded. This drug can virtually eliminate the ability for HIV to infect the who take it consistently and properly.
Finally, it is now possible to eliminate transmission after “the condom broke”. Those who engage in sexual behavior that is risky have a second chance, an ability to reverse their bad decision (or, as actually does happen, when the condom breaks). Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP), a drug regimen started within 72 hours and taken consistently for a month, has shown high effectivity in prohibiting seroconversion.
But all of this relies on knowledge. You won’t get treatment if you aren’t tested and the likelihood of PEP being utilized is greatly decreased if the insertive partner is unaware of his HIV status. And there will be those who refuse to care for themselves or who lack the structure to commit to a regimen and for whom PrEP, PEP, or retroviral regimen will not be a reality. But they are only one cog in the transmission cycle.
And this is not to suggest that everyone in a serodiscordant relationship or who enjoys frequent sexual diversity should adopt a PrEP regimen. Nor will those who select serosorting or seropositioning likely replace their choices with either drugs or condoms. But these are tools that can be employed.
And using all our tools together – a universal testing strategy combined with treatment for those who are positive, PrEP for those who are either in serodiscordant relationships or whose behavior is at high risk for conversion, and PEP readily and immediately available at every local drugstore (perhaps through 24/7 dial up prescription), all as a supplement to a message of consistent condom use – we could effectively end the transmission of HIV.
I know it sounds like a the final scene of Longtime Companion and a bit too hollywood to be real. After two decades, I’m not sure we believe in happy endings any longer. But it really can happen.
And I have a proposal for how we could roll out a program that could give us that day when HIV transmission is a sad history and not a present reality, and see it in this decade. My idea will not sit easily with some and will run into automatic objections. But I hope that when I present it tomorrow that you’ll give it a fair hearing.
A new tradition: give a gift in October
July 18th, 2012
This October I propose a new tradition: give a gift to someone. Not just any gift, but one very specific gift. And not to your mom or that lovely family across the street.
In October the OraQuick home HIV test will show up at your local drugstore. Instead of taking an afternoon off of work to go down to the local clinic and give your ever-professional local government representative your name, social security number, sexual orientation, and a count of everyone you’ve had sex with – along with what position you used, how you met them, how many times you had sex with them, and explicit details about the sexual encounter – you can test yourself at home. Privately. And you won’t even need to takes notes about yourself on a clipboard or enter data into a database that is “confidential” until a civil servant leaves it on the bus.
The test takes 20 minutes, is 99% accurate, and involves nothing more invasive than running a lightly swab over your gums. You can make an omelet, go for a jog, watch TV, or even say “please God no” over and over for 20 minutes – but when it’s over you will know whether or not you were infected with HIV as recent as three months ago (in some rare cases six months ago). If you want assurance about more recent events, you can get a nucleic acid test which looks for the virus itself and shortens the window of uncertainty to two or three weeks – but then you’re back to dealing with blood and people with a clipboard and a little lecture at the ready.
And the cost is not prohibitive. It has not yet been publicized, but is expected to be somewhere between $18 and $60 (And listen up, OraQuick, unless you want a whole pile of ill will, you’d best keep it closer to $18 than $60). But even at the upper end, you have three months to save up. So buy two.
Perhaps you believe that you already know that you are negative. Test anyway. It won’t kill you to have more information (and it might just save your life) and if you can’t think of another reason, it gives you bitching rights when you coerce your friend (you know the one) who you really think needs to be tested and is making up excuses.
I say buy two because the second one should be a gift. But a special gift, one you give to a total stranger that you will never meet. Because while you probably can afford to buy a home HIV test, many people cannot. In fact, those who most need to be tested are often those who have the least ability to buy a test. And, in many many cases, they are also those who are the most afraid to go to be seen going to the clinic.
The biggest contributor to the spread of HIV is ignorance about one’s own status. And while there are testing centers aplenty, clearly that isn’t working. Between a quarter and a third of all HIV positive people in this country are unaware that they are carrying the virus, a number that doubles once you get into less affluent communities. And while there are many outlets for testing that are funded by federal or state grants, there are plenty of people who need help – or want to give it – for whom institutional bureaucracies or a trip to the gay community center are not the solution.
So buy a test and give it to a the health science teacher at a high school located in an economically disadvantaged community. Give it to the storefront church that serves an immigrant population. Find a coach for an after-school program for troubled teens. Or a soup kitchen. Or get really brave and walk into the local Church of God in Christ and tell the pastor, “Reverend, I know and you know that someone in your congregation needs this. Pray about it.”
Let’s make this a tradition. Let’s be creative. Let’s find a way to reach the people who are still outside the net, who still don’t have access, who still live in a paradigm of fear. If there is someone they trust – even if it is someone who doesn’t trust you – give that trusted person a testing kit. It will reach the right hands.
And then set yourself a reminder for next October.
Truvada and politics
July 16th, 2012
The Food and Drug Administration has now just approved the use of Truvada, an AIDS drug, as a preventative medication for some high-risk HIV-negative people. To my way of thinking, this is WONDERFUL, yet another tool in our arsenal for slowing and preventing the spread of the virus.
Not everyone agrees. (Wall Street Journal)
In a media call after the decision was announced, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation called the FDA decision “a catastrophe in the fight against HIV in America” and said it was likely to lead to more, not fewer, HIV infections.
The organization has opposed FDA approval for Truvada’s use in preventing HIV in healthy people. Gilead Sciences is the maker of Truvada, which was already approved to treat people who are infected with HIV.
Michael Weinstein, co-founder and president of the AIDS Healthcare Foundation, later told the Health Blog that healthy people should be required to show proof of a negative HIV test before getting Truvada as a prevention medicine.
[UPDATE: Sorry, I left out essential information] However, Weinstein is not just demanding testing, a condition that was announced a month ago. He and AHF have led a campaign against this step altogether.
Weinstein and AHF are a bit, well, peculiar. I don’t want to trash an organization that works hard to encourage testing, but sometimes I think that Weinstein’s brand of politics is based more in micromanaging the lives of others than in utilizing tools to prevent the spread of AIDS. (He has collected enough signatures to put a proposition on the city ballot to ban the production of all porn in the city of Los Angeles that does not feature condoms. He thinks this will reduce non-condom porn – gay or straight – from being produced and marketed; I know it will simply cause a multi-billion dollar industry to move somewhere else at a time in which our city is in financial panic mode. Porn producers will provide for demand.)
Here’s what I know: some people will behave irresponsibly for a time. Here’s what I believe: that irresponsibility does not deserve sero-conversion as some sort of punishment or moral judgment. If we can limit their transmission rate, that is a good thing EVEN IF they are bad bad boys who don’t have sex the way that Michael Weinstein thinks appropriate.
HIV is not an automatic presumption for unsafe sex. And I get the impression that Weinstein – who has for years sang the mantra that condoms must be worn every time – would prefer that we act out of fear rather than truth. And here is some truth that he surely will not appreciate.
- HIV is not an every-time transmission even if anal sex is unsafe and the top is positive.
- Oral sex has such a low transmission rate that it remains more in the realm of biological plausibility than of likelihood.
- Medications are very effective and many HIV positive people have so low a viral load that they are “undetectable”. It is theorized (and widely rumored) that undetectable people cannot pass on the virus.
And I firmly believe that too many young gay men have thought “yeah, well I screwed up so I’ve probably become infected by now so why should I even try to protect myself this time”. Truth is a tool that allows us to respond and it has always infuriated me that the AIDS prevention community has been less than forthright.
I am not suggesting, hinting, implying, or advocating for giving up rule number one which is “wear a condom”. And the inclusion of counseling and risk management as a requirement for prescription is, I believe, a wise move. And there are many unanswered questions including cost of the medication, availability, and the extent to which some will see it as a magic shield.
But I also am realistic enough to know that safer sex will not always happen. Sorry, that’s just the truth. And I also know that some serodiscordant couples negotiate the risks they are willing to take so as to allow some measure of spontaneity and enhanced intimacy and I’m not going to stand in their bedroom with a clipboard and a bureaucratic tone. If this gives them an additional tool to decrease the odds of infection, then by all means allow them the tool.
I agree with AHF that everyone really needs to be tested. I would love to see a massive governmental effort (yeah, I said it) to test every single person in the country above the age of 13, regardless of who they are (preferably using the nucleic acid test twice over a two month period). I believe that people are basically decent and that knowledge of one’s status would go a long way to avoiding infecting others.
And I want to praise that organization for being on Santa Monica Boulevard in a ‘testing bus’ during the evenings when the bars are packed while the institutional (and increasingly pointless) Gay and Lesbian Center offers testing in West Hollywood from noon to 7 PM four days a week for up to 20 people per day. I also appreciate Weinstein’s support of the newly approved at-home HIV simple swab test that requires only 20 minutes and no outside participation.
I also pledge that if Weinstein proves right and sero-conversions increase rather than decrease, I will apologize and join him in calling for a reversal of the FDA’s position. But for me, fewer transmittable and fewer infectible people means less virus transmission which makes me want to stand up and dance around the table.
I think that FRC and Weinstein need to let go of the nanny instinct and find ways to utilize new tools to maximize results rather than seek to mold behavior. Because you don’t want to find yourself wondering why you feel sad, angry, and in objection on the day that we finally find an effective vaccine for this vir
The HPV Vaccine Debate Today and Why Preventing Syphilis Was “Immoral” Then
September 15th, 2011
On Monday’s Tea Party/CNN debate, Texas Gov. Rick Perry was blasted for signing an executive order requiring girls in Texas schools to be vaccinated for HPV, a virus which is the leading cause of cervical cancer in women (and, incidentally, the leading cause of anal cancer in men). The order included a parental op-out, but that did not mollify fellow conservatives who blasted him for trying to wipe out a sometimes sexually-transmitted cause of a horrible, painful death.
The argument is as old as the hills. Syphilis once played a similar role in public discourse at the turn of the last century. Untreated, syphilis leads to a slow breakdown of the body and nervous system that ultimately resulted in a premature dementia and death for its victims. And at the turn of the last century, it was not very curable — early cures were about as painful, time-consuming and deadly as the disease itself. In 1907, Dr. Elie Metchnikoff, of the Pasteur Institute in Paris, published what was later titled in English, The Prolongation of Life, in which he discussed a wide range of medical and moral issues facing society, including the debate about the morality of curing syphilis:
A large number of people, amongst them even men of science, regard as immoral any attempt to prevent to spread of venereal diseases. Recently, in connection with the investigations in the action mercurial ointment as a means of preventing syphilis, members of the Faculty of Medicine in France made a public protest, declaring that it would be “immoral to let people think that they could indulge in sexual vice without danger,” and that it was “wrong to give the public a means of protection in debauch.” None the less, other men of science, equally serious, were convinced that they were performing an absolutely moral work in attempting to find a prophylactic against syphilis which would preserve many people, including children and other innocent persons who, if no preventive measures existed, would suffer from the terrible disease.
…In the question of the prevention of syphilis, the moral problem is still more easy to settle. … The certainty of safety from this disease might render extra-conjugal relations more frequent, but if we compare the evil which might come from that with the immense benefit gained in preventing so many innocent persons from becoming diseased, it is easy to see which side the scale dips. The indignation of those who protest against the discovery of preventive measures can never either arrest the zeal of the investigators or hinder the use of the measures. This example again shows that reasoning is necessary in the solution of most moral questions. (Pages 302 and 304, American 1910 edition.)
Notice the debate taking place here, that it is a moral stand to withhold preventative treatment for a sexually transmitted disease, regardless of the consequences to those who do not undertake sexual activity of their own volition or who can acquire the disease non-sexually. HPV — and AIDS for that matter — also fit all of those characteristics. Little girls and women can acquire HPV through rape or molestation, and later develop cervical cancer. HPV, like syphilis and HIV, can also be transmitted prenatally from the mother. There are many routes of transmission, including casual skin contact, in addition to sexual transmission for HPV. But it’s that last aspect — remember how everyone on the debate panel, starting with moderator Wolf Blitzer, repeatedly called HPV a sexually transmitted disease? — which drove the debate on the morality of Rick Perry’s decision. There are similar mandates for vaccinations against measles, whooping cough and polio, but nobody was concerned about those mandates.
More than a hundred years ago, Dr. Metchnikoff found that “reasoning is necessary in the solution of most moral questions,” and that when one applies reasoning, the solution becomes obvious. But reasoning is non-existent among today’s GOP frontrunners. Dan Savage, like the good Dr. Metchnikoff more than 100 years before him, connects the dots:
Religious conservatives loved the HPV virus because it killed women. Here was a potentially fatal STI that condoms couldn’t protect you from. Abstinence educators pointed to HPV and jumped up and down—they loved to overstate HPV’s seriousness and its deadliness—in their efforts to scare kids into saving themselves for marriage. And they fought the introduction of the HPV vaccine tooth-and-nail because vaccinating women against HPV would “undermine” the abstinence message. Given a choice between your wife, daughter, sister, or mom dying of cervical cancer or no longer being to scream “HPV IS GOING TO KILL YOU!” at classrooms full of terrified teenagers, socially conservative abstinence “educators” preferred the former.
The state of scientific knowledge advances, but things never change for those of the earth-is-flat-and-God-is-on-his-throne mentality. If the day should ever come that the medical establishment is ready to role out a safe and effective vaccine against HIV, what you see today hints at the massive convulsion that will take place. If history is any guide (and why shouldn’t it be?) the apoplectic tantrums and scaremongering on the right will be epic, and you can guarantee that they will throw every roadblock imaginable to prevent its wide scale deployment.
June 5th, 2011
Today marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Centers for Disease Control’s publication of a mysterious set of illnesses which took the lives of five gay men in Los Angeles. AIDS had been swirling around unnoticed since the 1930s, and doctors in Europe and Africa began to notice that people were falling victim to a host of diseases which are normally curable in the Congo River basin in the late 1970s. But it took the CDC report of a cluster of cases in southern California to signal that the mysterious deaths were somehow related. The rest, as they say, is history, with a whole lot of stigma thrown in.
Karen Ocamb happened to be in the middle of Southern California’s epidemic in the 1980s. She was living in a “glass closet,” as she described it. She was out to select friends. She found herself becoming an AIDS care provider simply because her friends needed her help. She told me via email, “I didn’t come out to family until I had to tell Chris Scott’s mother — the wife of an Air Force General and my godmother who was living at a military retirement community associated with March Air Force Base — that her son was gay, had AIDS, was dying in Intensive Care and she should dash to his side. Chris was closeted, too. I came out to my Aunt Bobbie and then my mother because I didn’t think it was fair that AIDS outed Chris but I could stay in the closet. My Aunt Bobbie said she already knew and my mother basically disowned me.”
Karen has put together what amounts to being a lovely online shrine to the many people she knew over the years along with her memories as an AIDS care advocate and LGBT journalist. You can see her updates by following this tag. She has it all, beginning with an interview with Dr. Robert Gottlieb, who wrote the first CDC report after having noticed the remarkable similarities between four cases of an “apparently new” disease. She continues with some of her own personal memories, activists and allies, early marches, rallying cries, demonstrations, indifference, bigotry and hope. Karen is currently participating in the AIDS LifeCycle, a seven day ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles.
A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy: When AIDS is God’s Punishment
March 30th, 2011
When people who are HIV-positive hold a view of God as benevolent and forgiving, their disease progression is significantly slower than for those who see God as punishing and judgmental, according to a new study to be published in a forthcoming issue of the Journal of Behavioral Medicine.
Researchers at the University of Miami followed 101 HIV-positive people over four years, measuring their viral load (VLlog) and CD-4 counts to determine the progression of their disease. Researchers also monitored other factors which may impact disease progression, including adherance to medication, sexual risk behavior, and other drug use. They also examined psychological measures to determine whether depression, church attendance, social engagement/isolation, or optimism contributed to disease progression.
After four years, the reseachers determined that a positive view of God was significantly associate with slower disease progression, while those holding to a negative, judgmental and punishing view showed significantly faster disease progression:
More specifically, the decline ratio shows that those who were low on Positive View of God (at the 25th percentile, score of 23) lost CD4-cells five times faster than those who were high on this construct (at the 75th percentile, score of 30). The increase ratio shows that for those scoring low on Positive View of God (25th percentile, score of 23), VLlog those scoring high (75th percentile, score of 30). Similarly, those who held a Negative View of God as harsh/judgmental/punishing had significantly greater loss of CD4-cells over the 4 years, and significantly worse control of HIV. More specifically, those high on Negative View of God (75th percentile, score of 18) lost CD4-cells 2.52 times faster than those who were low (25th percentile, score of 10.5) and had 3.32 times faster increases in VLlog.
The interesting thing is that results like this held true even when the sample was adjusted for other factors. A positive view of God remained a significant beneficial factor even after adjusting for church attendance, health behaviors (adherence to medication, sexual risk behavior, alcohol/cocaine use), coping behaviors, and social support. A positive view of God also remained beneficial when adjusting for mood (optimism, depression, hopelessness). Which means that even if a person held a view of God as judgmental and punishing but was still optimistic, not depressed, socially engaged, taking his or her meds, etc., the person with a positive view of God still held a health edge after four years. According to the study’s authors, “The effects of View of God were significant and substantial.”
The authors gave one interesting example of how this effect might work for some people:
One of our long-term survivors, Sarah (not her real name) who has a positive view of God, interpreted her HIV diagnosis by reframing it into having been chosen by God for a special purpose—to help the heterosexual HIV community by establishing a community center and place of welcome for them.
Non-belief in God was not examined in this study due to the small number of atheists in their initial sample. They also caution that while there is a correlation between disease progression and a view of God, ”it does not imply that View of God causes disease-progression.”
Gail Ironson, Rick Stuetzle, Dale Ironson, Elizabeth Balbin, Heidemarie Kremer, Annie George, Neil Schneiderman, Mary Ann Fletcher. “View of God as benevolent and forgiving or punishing and judgmental predicts HIV disease progression.” Journal of Behavioral Medicine (published online February 22, 2911): in press. Abstract available here.
Malawi Religious Leaders Spurn HIV/AIDS Outreach to LGBT Community
March 15th, 2011
From Malawi’s Nyasa Times, we get this report about statements made by that nation’s Anglican Catholic and Muslim leaders concerning HIV/AIDS prevention, treatment and other outreach programs for the local LGBT community. Fr. George Buleya, Secretary General of the Episcopal Conference (Roman Catholic) of Malawi said:
“I believe that there are no homosexuals who are born as such in Malawi but if at all there are some who claim to be, they are moved to do so because of poverty. By the way, why are you forcing us to accommodate homosexuals when there are many thieves, adulterers and a lot of people who do evil?
“Christianity does not work on sociology but morality. To us, we cannot punish those caught in the act but God will,” he said.
Questioned that this might as well retard their fight against the Hiv/Aid pandemic because they will not be able to reach out to the minority groups, Buleya said: “Our effort is to reach out to the faithful and if they are not within our jurisdiction, then, we will not work with them.”
Interesting. For Buleya, the LGBT community isn’t even an opportunity for missionary work.
Muslim Association of Malawi (MAM) Secretary General Sheikh Imran Sharif Mohammed’s position is even worse:
“Homosexuality is sin and is punishable by beheading. The Holy Koran clearly states that any community which indulges in these acts is calling for calamities like those that happened to Sodom and Gomorrah,” said Mohammed, a lecture at the University of Malawi’s Chancellor College.
“Nobody can change our laws which are both in the Koran, as a primary source and Hadith as our secondary source. These people are enemies and there is no way we can condone them in our communities,” he added.
HIV test results in one minute
December 17th, 2010
The FDA has approved an HIV testing kit that gives results in one minute. The highly accurate (99.8%) test involves a finger prick, three solution process that gives results about as easy to understand as a pregnancy test (one blue dot, negative; two blue dots, positive).
I remember when test results took weeks – long, long weeks – and still now it can be an agonizing twenty minutes even for those who have no real reason to be concerned. And while there are testing vehicles on the street in West Hollywood every weekend, I’m sure that a 20 minute wait negatively impacts their draw.
But with one-minute responses, I suspect that there will be an increase in those who are willing to be tested and a reduction in the anxiety of those who do.
Another Reason For FRC To Oppose Stem Cell Research
December 14th, 2010
It may hold some promise for curing HIV. An American patient in Berlin received a stem cell transplant in 2007 in an attempt to cure his leukemia. That transplant, to the surprise of his doctors, also ended up curing him of his HIV infection:
But these were no ordinary stem cells – a mutation found in just one percent of Caucasians in northern and western Europe causes CD4 cells to lack the CCR5 receptor, a receptor necessary for early-stage HIV to infect CD4 immune system cells. People with this mutation are more or less immune to HIV infection.
Those anti-HIV stem cells took root in the Berlin patient and repopulated there. At the same time, the host CD4 cells that hadn’t been destroyed in chemotherapy and radiation completely disappeared. After 38 months, doctors still couldn’t find HIV infection in the Berlin patient – in other words, it seems by all measures that his HIV has been cured.
This is still a very unlikely path toward curing AIDS, but it does give scientists several avenues for further investigation. This article explains the patient’s gruelling recovery:
The `Berlin patient`, Timothy Ray Brown, a US citizen who lives in Berlin, was interviewed this week by German news magazine Stern.
His course of treatment for leukaemia was gruelling and lengthy. Brown suffered two relapses and underwent two stem cell transplants, as well as a serious neurological disorder that flared up when he seemed to be on the road to recovery.
The neurological problem led to temporary blindness and memory problems. Brown is still undergoing physiotherapy to help restore his coordination and gait, as well as speech therapy.
Friends have noticed a personality change too: he is much more blunt, possibly a disinhibition that is related to the neurological problems.
On being asked if it would have been better to live with HIV than to have beaten it in this way he says “Perhaps. Perhaps it would have been better, but I don’t ask those sorts of questions anymore.”
Scientists are now discussing ways to identify stem cells with the built-in immunity for further research. A group of U.S. scientists have announced that they have received funding to to explore techniques for engineering and introducing CCR5-deficient stem cells.
World AIDS Day 2010
December 1st, 2010
Today is World AIDS Day, a time to reflect, to refocus, and to address the continuing global epidemic of HIV/AIDS. This day always brings remembrances for me, and I thought I’d share some.
But I’ve sat here and written and revised and amended and started over, and I’ve found that I simply cannot share my personal thoughts on this. I’ve been devastated by this disease, but I’ve also been astonishingly lucky. I’ve lost some very dear to me, but considering that I lived within 50 miles of the Castro for all of the 80′s, my loss is nothing, nothing at all, compared to others.
But regardless of the extent, I find that I can’t personalize AIDS on this site. And yet I can’t just write some impersonal analysis, today. HIV/AIDS is personal, intensely personal to gay men of my age.
It has always been a part of our lives, a backdrop to socializing, romance, love and sex; always an issue, always present. It has been the filter through which we have been demonized, the focus of compassion, the impetus for our activism, and the basis of our shellshock. It’s built bonds between gay men and lesbians and parents and churches. It exposed the world to the existence of gay people outside of “the big city”. And it killed many of our best and brightest – some of whom we loved.
I am encouraged about recent studies – and we do discuss them here – and about the statistics regarding longevity and continued effectivity. But AIDS is not statistics, it’s stories, and that’s where I stumble. You’d think after enough time it would become easier, yet there are still things I don’t talk about.
But maybe you can. Perhaps you have stories to share.
Or perhaps you want to reflect on a future, the increasingly likely hopes for both a prevention and a cure. Or to discuss the international consequences of a disease that is ravishing some parts of the world.
If so, here is a space for your recollections and thoughts.
Some HIV+ Ugandan Teens Choose Religion Over Meds
October 8th, 2010
We’ve been documenting the corrosive power of unscrupulous religious leaders in their fight to hang gay people. But the LGBT population isn’t the only one suffering from the ignorance and superstitions that pass as Christianity:
Rebecca Nakityo, 17, spends every free moment watching gospel TV, reading the Bible or praying in church. The soft-spoken teen — who has lived with her aunt and uncle since her parents’ death several years ago — told IRIN/PlusNews she believed she was cured by God six months ago.
According to Nakityo, as the pastor’s voice reverberated through the church hall, she felt filled with the healing power of God. Nakityo now regularly gives testimonies about her “healing” and has stopped taking her ARVs (anti-retroviral medications).
By the time many young people find their way back to the health system, it is too late. “We had a client who was in church; they brought her and dumped her at Baylor (Baylor College of Medicine Children’s Foundation Uganda) — we tried to treat her but it was too late,” Ssuna said.
The so-called “prosperity gospel,” sometimes known as “name it and claim it” theology, has become a major force in Uganda. Much as elsewhere, there are entire satellite and terrestrial television stations whose entire programming is devoted to making all sorts of miraculous promises in exchange for prayer — and donation. Well-known American pastors like Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, T.D. Jakes and others have inspired legions of home-grown Ugandan prosperity preachers who are known as much by their immense houses and expensive S.U.V’s as they are by their highly-charged emotional services.
If pastors have no shame about living in extreme wealth and extravagance while 52% of Ugandans get by on less than US$1.25 a day, then it should come as no surprise that they would also have no shame about urging their followers to also abandon life-saving medications.
According to Mary Kiwanuka, who has an adolescent daughter living with HIV, the influence of television evangelists should not be underestimated. “These children are exposed to too much television which shows people being healed,” she said. “In their circumstances, with too much peer pressure and the pill load, if there is an alternative they take it.”
Anti-gay McHugh notes the same misreporting that I saw
October 5th, 2010
Dr. Paul McHugh is not a friend of our community. Long an anti-trans activist, he wrote an amicus brief in support of the Proponents of Proposition 8 in which he claimed that homosexuality cannot be defined.
Sexually transmitted diseases proliferate among men and women who have multiple sexual partners. If the recent measure of HIV infection among Baltimore’s gay men was restricted to those who frequent “gay” bars and clubs, then it will overestimate the prevalence of HIV in Baltimore because it will not include those gay men who are not seeking extra partners (“Baltimore leads in HIV infection in gay men,” Oct. 2). The prime public health message to the people in any community seeking to reduce STDs, including HIV, is and has ever been, “If you are sexually active, have few and preferably only one sexual partner.”
McHugh is correct both in his analysis of the numbers and in his recommendation for the best way to avoid contracting sexually transmitted infections. It’s a pity that his anti-marriage efforts are in direct contradiction to his observation.
Malawi VP: Addressing Gays Crucial In Fight Against HIV/AIDS
September 29th, 2010
Malawi’s Vice President Joyce Banda urged a gathering of religious leaders in the commercial capital of Blantyre to address the needs of LGBT people in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Banda’s remarks were delivered to a meeting of the Malawi Interfaith Association, which is meeting to discuss the increasing HIV infection rate among the clergy:
Banda said same-sex liaisons are a reality in Malawi saying there were Men Having Sex with fellow Men (MSMs) and that there were also lesbians, – Women Having Sex With Women.
“I am of the opinion that MIA is strategically positioned to bring faith leaders together to debate on how faith response to HIV and AIDS should reposition itself to tackle the issue of homosexuality without necessarily compromising moral integrity of faith institutions,” Banda a devout Christian said.
She said gays and lesbians are vulnerable groups and that they need to be paid attention by the clergy in the national response to fight HIV/Aids.
Is unclear how clergy might “pay attention” to LGBT people, given the fact that homosexuality is illegal in Malawi (punishable with up to fourteen years’ imprisonment) and widely condemned in society. Malawi gained worldwide attention with the arrest and conviction of Stephen Monjeza and Tiwonge Chimbalanga following a traditional marriage ceremony earlier this year. The couple were finally pardoned by President Bingu wa Mutharika. He later described their attempted wedding as “satanic.” LGBT advocates and ordinary citizens have experienced official repression and witch hunts, according to local news media.
Washington Post gets the HIV prevalence story wrong
September 24th, 2010
Darryl Fears of the Washington Post starts off with
Study puts HIV rate among gay men at 1 in 5
One in five gay men in the United States has HIV, and almost half of those who carry the virus are unaware that they are infected, according to a new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study.
The problem? That’s just flat false.
As we reported, the CDC study was of men in urban settings and not reflective of gay men on the whole. It was not even representative of gay urban men, just those who are living it up at the bars.
And there is a material difference.
As we have stated in the past, only about 12% of gay men are infected with HIV. But Fears doesn’t have to take our word for it, it’s right there in the study which he was reporting. And the CDC made a point of warning against reporting their study in a sensational way:
Finally, these findings are limited to men who frequented MSM-identified venues (most of which were bars [45%] and dance clubs [22%]) during the survey period in 21 [metropolitan statistical areas] with high AIDS prevalence; the results are not representative of all MSM. A lower HIV prevalence (11.8%) has been reported among MSM in the general U.S. population. [emphasis mine]
While it may take an extra few minutes to read the whole report, it can make the difference between providing news and spouting nonsense.
Of course the Post was not alone is their sloppy reporting. The AP was actually worse
One in five sexually active gay and bisexual men has the AIDS virus, and nearly half of those don’t know they are infected, a federal study of 21 U.S. cities shows.
“We don’t have a generalized epidemic in the United States. We have a concentrated epidemic among certain populations.”
Even gay magazine, Bay Windows, got in on the act with the headline, “CDC: One in five gay, bi men is HIV-positive”.
More sensationalistic HIV headlines
September 8th, 2010
Here’s a Reuters headline from France:
HIV spread “out of control” among French gay men
And here’s the meat of the story:
Thursday’s study, published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal, found that HIV in France fell significantly from 8,930 new infections in 2003 to 6,940 in 2008.
But the number of new infections among gay men was stable despite a decline in other groups, and accounted for 48 percent of new cases in France in 2008.
To Reuters “stable” = “out of control”
Yes, France has unacceptably high HIV infection rates – nearly 10% of gay men. Yes, we need to address the increase in young gay men who seem to be receiving ineffective messaging. Absolutely.