D.C.’s HIV blame game

Two D.C. bloggers are battling it out over the new HIV number released for Washington, D.C. Three percent of the total population there is now living with HIV.

Black Informant says the cause is risky sexual behavior among the gay and lesbian community. The Washington City Paper‘s Sexist blogger says the cause is more complex than that, pushed upward by increasing rates of new infections among heterosexuals.

I wonder how Black Informant would feel if someone took these numbers and twisted them to say African-Americans were to blame:

And continuing a grim trend from the 2007 report, African Americans are bearing the brunt of this epidemic: 4.3 percent of African Americans in the District are living with HIV/AIDS; 6.5 percent of black men in the city have the disease, and African Americans account for 76 percent of HIV/AIDS cases in the District.

This HIV blame game is stupid and dangerous. It is the reason why the federal government ignored the crisis for so long in the 1980s. Anyone can find a number or statistic, put it in bold text, twist it and use it to attack a minority or community. But that’s not being brave, as Black Informant suggests. Being brave would mean actually doing something to end the crisis, not increase paranoia and prejudice.

While Black Informant is busy trying to find a scapegoat, people are getting infected and infecting others. His energy would be better spent finding a way to end the crisis.



On the need for stronger HIV/AIDS prevention

A young journalist from Britain writes that the LGBT community needs a stronger and more effective HIV/AIDS prevention program:

Craig’s story brings home the reality of barebacking – a reality missed by the glossy HIV prevention adverts and messages aimed at my generation of gay men (I’m 23). Those responsible for the ads, organisations such as the Terrence Higgins Trust and GMFA, the gay men’s health charity, insist that harder hitting representations of life with HIV do not work and that they stigmatise those living with the virus.

But I believe that a refusal to show the harsh reality of HIV is encouraging attitudes like that of one of the three men infected. John, 22, told me and Newsnight (video) that he wasn’t bothered he had HIV, and that being gay he always knew he’d get it. Time Out’s Paul Burston told the debate’s audience of a conversation he’d had with a 22-year-old in Liverpool, who said he was more worried about catching gonorrhea than HIV.


Yet instead of giving us a picture of what our lives could be like if we bareback, they choose to “empower” us. They do that by saying: “If you are the active partner you’re less likely to get HIV” and “If you withdraw, then you and your partner are at less risk of contracting HIV.”

When was the last time you were told that if you’re going to drink drive you should opt for a bottle of wine instead of tequila slammers? Or saw the withdrawal method advocated to prevent pregnancy?

The very nature of sex, when arousal clouds your judgment, means even stronger messages on safe sex are required. You need an authoritative voice at your shoulder, not a voice as clouded as your judgment telling you that you’re at less risk if you do this or that.

Read the whole commentary at The Guardian.

From The Daily Beast:

[Rick] Warren’s man in Uganda is a charismatic pastor named Martin Ssempa. The head of the Makerere Community Church, a rapidly growing congregation, Ssempe enjoys close ties to his country’s First Lady, Janet Museveni, and is a favorite of the Bush White House. In the capitol of Kampala, Ssempa is known for his boisterous crusading. Ssempa’s stunts have included burning condoms in the name of Jesus and arranging the publication of names of homosexuals in cooperative local newspapers while lobbying for criminal penalties to imprison them.



Merck seeks Gardasil approval for boys

Reports yesterday noted that drug company Merck will be approaching the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to get approval for the use of Gardasil in boys.

The Associated Press reported:

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has two months to decide whether the application for use in males meets its standards. Reviews can then take 10 months or more.

The application includes research data from a Merck study including about 4,000 males, ages 16 to 26; Gardasil prevented 90 percent of cases of penile cancer and genital warts caused by the four common virus strains targeted by the vaccine.

The agency approved use of Gardasil in females ages 9 to 26 years old in June 2006, but last June rejected expanding that to include women ages 27 to 45. The vaccine has since been approved for use by young women in dozens of foreign countries.

And why is this important, especially for gay, bi and MSM male youth? The CDC says (emphasis mine):

Other HPV-related cancers are much less common than cervical cancer. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2008, there will be:

  • 3,460 women diagnosed with vulvar cancer;
  • 2,210 women diagnosed with vaginal and other female genital cancers;
  • 1,250 men diagnosed with penile and other male genital cancers;and
  • 3,050 women and 2,020 men diagnosed with anal cancer.

Certain populations may be at higher risk for HPV-related cancers, such as gay and bisexual men, and individuals with weak immune systems (including those who have HIV/AIDS).

I hope the FDA doesn’t drag its feet and I hope new tests and trials will extend Gardasil’s effective use in boys to a similar age range as girls (9-26 years old). There’s no reason whatsoever to keep an effective, preventative drug off the market if we know it will help keep young men safe.

Photo credit: istockphoto


Fighting AIDS in the South

I don’t know if everyone saw it, but there was a great profile of North Carolina HIV/AIDS pioneer Evelyn Foust in Sunday’s Raleigh News & Observer:

Evelyn Foust would have been happy to be out of her career by now.

As North Carolina’s chief HIV and AIDS fighter, Foust has seen firsthand how the virus has morphed from seemingly isolated cases among gay men to a worldwide epidemic that infects 33 million people. In North Carolina, an estimated 31,000 people have HIV or AIDS.

Evelyn Foust

Evelyn Foust

On Monday, World AIDS Day focuses a passing spotlight on the disease. For Foust, who heads the state’s Communicable Disease Branch, the disease is a daily pursuit.

For Foust, the disease became concrete one day in 1985, when a young man walked into the public health clinic in Charlotte where she worked. Sitting knee-to-knee with him, she broke the news that he faced a fatal infection.

“I remember his face to this day,” she says. “Beautiful big brown eyes. He said, ‘My test result is positive, isn’t it?’ And I said it was positive. And he looked at me, and I looked at him, and I didn’t have anything I could offer. The only thing I knew to do was reach over and squeeze his hand. And I said I was sorry.”

Too many similar conversations followed.

Foust and other HIV/AIDS workers and organization heads are now working together in the Southern AIDS Coalition. As HIV/AIDS has slowly become a life-long disease, instead of an almost immediate, fatal one, cases in the South continue to rack up. The disease still disproportionally infects Southerners, especially in communities of color and among men who have sex with men.

HIV/AIDS disproportionally affects Southerners, especially men who have sex with men and in communities of color.

HIV/AIDS disproportionally affects Southerners, especially men who have sex with men and in communities of color.

Today is World AIDS Day — a day to remember, but also a day to act. I know the economy is bad, but if you have the extra funds, donate to a local AIDS service organization. Or, commit yourself to volunteering or raising awareness of the issue in your own unique way. Remind your friends of the importance of protecting their health by making wise, safe-sex decisions. If you haven’t been tested, or can’t name the place and time when you last were, commit yourself to going for another test as soon as you can.

“Diagnosing and fixing was an old model,” Foust says in the News & Observer piece, regarding HIV/AIDS responses. “It worked for other sexually transmitted diseases, but this was a disease where there was no cure, so you had to work on prevention and testing. People had to protect themselves.”

Taking care of your own health is paramount. Being a part of a community and helping your friends and neighbors do the same thing is just as paramount.