Guest Blogger

We're still living with AIDS

Filed By Guest Blogger | December 02, 2008 1:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living, Living, Politics
Tags: AIDS research, HIV/AIDS, International AIDS Conference, World AIDS Day

Editor's Note: Kenyon Farrow is an organizer, communications strategist and writer working on issues at the intersection of HIV/AIDS, prisons and homophobia. A current Policy Institute fellow with the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, Farrow is working on a report about the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Black gay and bisexual men in the U.S.

kenyon.jpgYesterday, many of us dusted off those red ribbons and "remembered" to remember the people who we've lost and who are currently living with HIV/AIDS. Some of us may have even donated money to an AIDS charity doing work in some far-flung place. But red ribbons and prayer services that commemorate only hide the reality that here in America, we are still living with AIDS.

Despite major advances in treating the virus, the HIV/AIDS epidemic didn't go anywhere and, in fact, it seems to be getting worse for people in our community. At the International AIDS Conference, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) stunned the international AIDS community by announcing that the richest nation on earth had over 56,000 new infections in 2006. While this may not seem like a huge number, this revision also included a back-calculation revealing that, for the 15 years from 1991-2006, infection rates were approximately 25-50 percent higher than the long-held 40,000 annual estimate.

Not only have we been undercounting the growth of the epidemic, men who have sex with men (MSM -- that public health category that includes gay and bisexual men, and transgender women) continue to bear the greatest increases in new infections. In 2006, 53 percent of all new infections were among MSM. More stunning, it found the number of new infections of black MSM ages 13-29 to be the highest of all MSM groups. Even though CDC officials are typically conservative in its public statements, CDC Behavioral Scientist Greg Millett has stated publicly that black MSM are the only group in the U.S. with HIV rates similar to Sub-Saharan African nations, despite similar or lower rates of risky sex or substance abuse than white MSM. While black MSM certainly bear the brunt of the virus, gay and bisexual men and transgender women of all races are disproportionately impacted by the virus.

Though many of us are celebrating a new administration, we are still living with HIV/AIDS policies that reflect the reactionary Reagan era, where politics, not public health science, dominates our approach to HIV prevention, treatment and care. We still fund abstinence-only sex education, ban federal funding for syringe exchange programs, and there's no coordinated national AIDS strategy for the United States. This lack of concern for our lives shapes the ability of people with HIV to accessing quality services, but also makes many in our community more vulnerable to contracting the virus.

And the HIV negative still live with the virus -- lovers, friends, relatives, are positive, have died, and the specter of HIV still shapes our current sexual lives.

So instead of silently commemorating World AIDS Day with a red ribbon, I urge all of us to continue to fight the public policies that make us more vulnerable to contracting the disease or that prevent people who are positive from staying healthy. President-elect Barack Obama will be making key appointments in the coming weeks that will demonstrate whether his promises for policy change for the domestic HIV epidemic will put public health over politics. We have an opportunity to do something different. Let's hold him to his word.


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Ervin Gainer | December 2, 2008 8:59 PM

I would agree. I'm glad that you put this up because I never thought of it that way. My partner is positive and the question is "what do we do now?" or "How are we going actually FIGHT against HIV/AIDS.

So instead of silently commemorating World AIDS Day with a red ribbon, I urge all of us to continue to fight the public policies that make us more vulnerable to contracting the disease or that prevent people who are positive from staying healthy.

What would you suggest?

Bil,

I don't know if the guest blogger is going to reply so I will address a few areas in no particular order.
1. There needs to be a strong educational effort on safe and safer sex. This effort must include making condoms free and available everywhere gay men congregate.
2. The education in our schools of all people who are sexually active or sexually curious about how HIV/AIDS is transmitted.
3. Frequent testing for the most vulnerable people.
4. Testing during routine physicals for people of every age.
5. Clean needle exchange availablity.
6. Contact your state and federal legeslators and President-elect Obama about continued and increased HIV/AIDS funding. As the Guest Blogger pointed out HIV has been statistically mis-reported for many years (40,000 vs. the corrected 56,000 new cases each year; however, HIV/AIDS funding has been flat for many, many years).
7. Get rid of policies that treat HIV/AIDS persons differently vis a vis travelling internationally
8. Emphasize to those who are barebacking that HIV/AIDS is not curable. It is characterized as a chronic long-term manageable disease, but that characterization generally fails to emphasize that the disease is debilitating and there is no cure. The medicines and their side effects are many time as bad as the disease itself. The long-term effects of the 25 or 30 available HIV/AIDS drugs that have been developed do not have know long-term effects on the users. Those effects will not be known for many years.

Now that I've started a list, I encourage you add your thoughts.

Ervin Gainer | December 3, 2008 8:32 PM

That list is a good start...I would totally agree. Why aren't there more HIV/AIDS awareness commericials on television where most people spend their time? They need them for ALL people...for men AND women. They should be ran everyday.


My partner is taking Atripla and he is doing fine with it. It's only one pill, which is good...I wouldn't want him to have to take seven pills. I think that's great that there is a medicine so HIV/AIDS victims don't have to take more then one pill. It would be even better if we found a way to cure HIV/AIDS. We can only hope.

What the younger people don't realize is that the drugs used to suppress HIV also affects other internal organs (heart, liver, kidneys) as well as blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels. In my opinion the aging process is excelerated.

Thanks for asking the question Bill. I think Kim said a lot of what I would say. But here's a couple other sources that I think reflect smart thinking about the epidemic, and what should be done:

http://www.nationalaidsstrategy.org

http://www.preventionjustice.org/blog/reconstruction

http://www.jhsph.edu/worldaidsday/2008/Holtgrave_2008.html