10 Reasons We Still Need HIV Research and Care

by Winnie McCroy
EDGE Editor
Wednesday Jan 1, 2014

As 2014 begins, EDGE looks at the year in review, revisiting the top reasons that our community must continue the fight for HIV research, the search for a vaccine and the fight for a cure, in the midst of countless phony panaceas.

As rates skyrocket among men who have sex with men, especially MSM of color, the CDC sounds off its warnings. Rates of HIV are increasing among Black and transgender women, and condoms are still the main source of protection.

A deadly meningitis outbreak made things even more complicated for MSM in New York City this year, and high rates of hepatitis C wreaked havoc on people's immune system.

1. CDC Concerned About Resurgence of HIV Among Young MSM

On Nov. 21, leaders in the fields of HIV prevention among young gay and bisexual men came together for the CDC’s webcast, "Combating a Resurgence of HIV Among Young Men." The panel, moderated by MSNBC’s Thomas Roberts, featured the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s Jonathan "Jono" Mermin, HRC Vice President Jeff Krehely, National Black Gay Men’s Advocacy Coalition Daniel Driffin and the Ali Forney’s Center’s Executive Director Carl Siciliano.

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2. HIV Rates Rise Again Among Black Women

On a World AIDS Day over five years ago, Tambusi Green had planned to donate blood. The blood banks in Los Angeles, where she lived, were running dangerously low, and she figured that it was the least she could do to help others in need.

Little did she know that what she thought was a routine gesture would change her life. Green, then 34, was shocked to discover that she couldn’t donate blood because she had contracted HIV.

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3. Trans Women Battle HIV Infections

Transgender women are 49 times more likely to have HIV compared to other populations. That makes them one of, if not the fastest, growing population of HIV-positive people in the country. Both facts are virtually unknown to the American public. The reason? Transgender women have been mostly left out of the HIV narrative.

In fact, they’ve been incorrectly lumped into other categories, such as gay men, or men who have sex with men. According to Miss Major, a 70-year-old transgender woman of color, and the executive director of TGI Justice Project, a San Francisco-based advocacy organization that fights for the rights of transgender, intersex, and gender-variant people who are in prison or have served jail time, most HIV data collection methods don’t distinguish between transgender and nontransgender women.

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4. This Year, MSM in NYC Also Faced a Meningitis Outbreak

Officials from the New York City Department of Health are urging gay and bisexual men living or visiting the city to get a meningitis vaccine after an outbreak of a serious and potentially deadly strain of the virus hit the area nearly three years ago, New York City’s CBS-TV affiliate WCBS 880 reports.

Health officials are warning gay and bisexual men, who are at risk of contracting the new strain of meningitis, to get the vaccine as the outbreak among men who have sex with other men has sickened four people this year. In total there have been 17 cases since 2012, according to health officials, and seven people have died since 2010.

"Once you get infected the time from being infected to being horribly sick and possibly dying is very short," Deputy Health Commissioner Dr. Jay Varma told the news station. "We’ve had several cases who have been actually found dead in their apartment before they’d even gone to see a medical provider. So that is, to us, absolutely terrifying."

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5. After 32 Years, Condoms Are Still Our Primary Protection

On July 4, 1981, a handful of newspapers ran a seemingly unimportant news item from the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta. The headline read, "Cancer Linked to Gays."

Today, 32 years later, millions of lives have been lost and billions of dollars in research conducted on what we now know as HIV/AIDS. Over the last three decades, countless hours have been poured into discovering every facet of the virus, from how it is transmitted to how some seem to tolerate it while others succumb quickly. And condoms are still are best protection.

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6. Studies Showed PrEP Did Not Increase Sexual Risks

According to a recent trial, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) did not cause men who have sex with men (MSM) to have riskier sex, said researchers, although they warned that the subjects may not have been completely honest in their self-reporting of the sexual risks they took.

"There was no evidence of risk compensation among HIV-uninfected MSM in this clinical trial," reads the study conclusion. "Monitoring for risk compensation should continue now that pre-exposure prophylaxis has been shown to be efficacious in MSM and other populations and will be provided in open-label trials and other contexts."

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7. We are Still Hearing About Fake Cures Like Russian Mushrooms to Cure HIV

A treatment for HIV may be found in Siberian mushrooms that have been used in Russia since the 16th century as a folk remedy, according to a group of Russian scientists.
The Wall Street Journal reports that the scientists from the Vector research institute in southwestern Siberia say they have identified three types of mushroom found in that region that can be developed into antiviral medicines, the institute said in a statement on its website.

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8. Across the World, 30 HIV Vaccine Trials Are Underway

Although we have yet to discover a vaccine to prevent HIV infection or lower viral load, there are currently 30 candidates moving forward in clinical trials across the world. AVAC: Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention’s Executive Director Mitchell Warren spoke to EDGE about current human clinical trials in Thailand and South Africa that show promise.

"After decades of vaccine research and lots of ups and downs and disappointing results, the results of Thailand’s RV144 study, which is four years old now, were the first in a human clinical trial that showed that a vaccine reduced the risk of HIV," said Warren. "It was 31 percent effective. The trial showed that it could work, but not good enough to get it to market and license it."

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9. ASOs Rejoiced When the Senate Reauthorized PEPFAR

On Nov. 19, the House of Representatives unanimously passed the PEPFAR Stewardship and Oversight Act, extending the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief for another five years. Across the country, AIDS Service Organizations were thrilled at their commitment.

"PEPFAR is the most successful global health program in history," said Kevin Robert Frost, amfAR’s CEO. "Reauthorization of PEPFAR renews the U.S. commitment to deliver life-saving prevention and treatment services in the countries most heavily affected by HIV."

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10. People With HIV Must Get Hip to Hep C

A discussion about the risk of transmitting or contracting HIV without mentioning Hepatitis C is like talking about Clyde Barrow without Bonnie Parker. Separately, they were a delinquent and a bored young woman. Together they were killers.

Hepatitis C, or Non A Non B Hepatitis as it was formerly known, is an infectious disease affecting mainly the liver. What makes it worse is that the infection is often asymptomatic. So you may not even know you have it until you suffer the debilitating effects of chronic infection.

Over time, Hep C will scar the liver and eventually lead to cirrhosis, which is usually only apparent after many years. In some cases, those with cirrhosis will go on to develop liver cancer and liver failure. When cirrhosis sets in, a person with HCV has a limited number of days left. A liver transplant is often needed for the patient to live.

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Winnie McCroy is the Women on the EDGE Editor, HIV/Health Editor, and Assistant Entertainment Editor for EDGE Media Network, handling all women's news, HIV health stories and theater reviews throughout the U.S. She has contributed to other publications, including The Village Voice, Gay City News, Chelsea Now and The Advocate, and lives in Brooklyn, New York.


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