Analysis: Most At-Risk For HIV Not Studied

 

New Analysis of World’s Premier AIDS Conference Finds Poor Coverage of Populations Most-at-Risk for HIV

Hundreds of Organizations Worldwide Call on Conference Organizers to Increase Meaningful Coverage of Gay Men, Transgender People, People Who Inject Drugs, and Sex Workers

A new report produced by a coalition of global advocacy organizations shows that the International AIDS Conference (IAC) program continues to lack meaningful coverage of populations most-at-risk for HIV, including men who have sex with men (MSM), transgender people, people who inject drugs (PWID), and sex workers. Over 220 organizations from more than 70 countries around the world have called on the organizers of the IAC to take concrete measures to increase coverage of HIV-related issues concerning the health and human rights of these populations worldwide.

The report features a systematic quantitative audit and qualitative analysis of the topics and countries covered by abstracts on most-at-risk populations at the 2012 IAC, also known as AIDS 2012. These populations are also called “key populations,” because they are both key to the epidemic’s dynamics and key to the response. As an in-depth examination of research presented at the world’s premier AIDS conference, the report also offers a glimpse into the current state of research on these key populations globally.

The quantitative audit of the AIDS 2012 program showed that only 17% of all abstracts presented at the conference were exclusively focused on MSM, transgender people, PWID, or sex workers. Some key populations were better represented than others. The percent of all abstracts exclusively dedicated to each key population was 8% for MSM, less than 1% for transgender people, 5% for PWID, and 4% for sex workers.

The qualitative analysis of abstracts on these populations was even more revealing, indicating that more abstracts on key populations focused on individual risk factors (40%) than any other topic, including structural factors [e.g. policy, stigma, violence] (26%); primary prevention (19%); testing, care, and treatment (15%); and surveillance (10%). Only 29% of abstracts on key populations focused on describing interventions, while 71% described vulnerabilities without offering any detailed solutions.

“This meager level of coverage on issues concerning our communities at the International AIDS Conference is unacceptable,” said Dr. George Ayala, Executive Director of the Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF) and co-author of the report. “Not only was there a comparatively low number of abstracts on key populations at the conference, but the content of these abstracts was largely divorced from the most urgent needs of key populations as identified by members of the populations themselves.”

The report cites the body of abstracts at AIDS 2012 focused on MSM as an example of the gap between the kind of research prioritized by key population stakeholders and the kind of research ultimately presented at the conference. Ahead of AIDS 2012, the MSMGF conducted a global survey of nearly 300 MSM advocates and service providers around the world to identify the topics they felt would be most important to address at the conference. The top three themes were “Prevention,” “Stigma and Discrimination,” and “Law and Criminalization.” Of all abstracts presented at AIDS 2012, the percentage dedicated to these themes in relation to MSM was 1.6%, 0.5%, and 0.3%, respectively.

“After thirty years of AIDS, we know key populations are at much greater risk than the general population in nearly every country around the world,” said Allan Clear, Executive Director of the Harm Reduction Coalition and co-author of the report. “Our communities deserve proper attention, and mounting evidence argues that addressing HIV among key populations is central to ending the global AIDS crisis. It is time for the IAC and the broader AIDS response to start addressing HIV among key populations in a more equitable, more appropriate, and ultimately more effective way.”

In addition to examining the number and focus topics of abstracts on key populations, the report also assessed geographic coverage. Of all abstracts on key populations, nearly 40% focused on North America and Western Europe. A country-level analysis revealed that nearly two-thirds of all key population abstracts were concentrated in 10 countries alone. Of the remaining 79 countries represented in these abstracts, 32 had only 1 abstract on 1 key population. Numerous regions and countries with concentrated epidemics among key populations were either underrepresented or entirely absent.

“The poor coverage of topics concerning key populations, especially from lower-income countries, may reflect inequitable global funding for research on key populations as much as it reflects the IAC’s processes that reinforce these inequities,” said JoAnne Keatley, Director of the Center of Excellence for Transgender Health at the University of California, San Francisco and co-author of the report. “The IAC’s organizers must update the conference’s processes to ensure the event is as valuable as possible for addressing the urgent HIV epidemics among key populations. As the premier platform for sharing the latest research on HIV and AIDS, it must lead the global AIDS research field to do the same.”

“The IAC represents a unique and powerful opportunity to impact the global AIDS epidemic,” said Anastacia Ryan, Global Policy Officer on HIV and Sex Work at the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP). “The conference offers unparalleled potential to shape the industry’s discourse, funding priorities, and locus of scientific inquiry, giving key affected populations the recognition they deserve as partners in fighting the epidemic. By updating its processes to increase meaningful engagement with and coverage of key populations, the IAC will not only support the development of more effective strategies to address the needs of key populations, it will bring the global AIDS response closer to developing the comprehensive solutions we need to end the epidemic.”

The report concluded with a set of 5 recommendations for measures that can be taken by conference organizers to increase meaningful coverage of key populations at future IACs. The recommendations include conducting community consultations, issuing targeted calls for abstracts, and advocating with large funders and research institutions for more appropriate funding and support for research on key populations. A total of 221 organizations from 73 countries endorsed the recommendations for action.

The full report, entitled “Coverage of Key Populations at the 2012 International AIDS Conference,” is available online at http://www.msmgf.org/files/msmgf//Advocacy/AIDS2012_KeyPopulations.pdf  The report was jointly produced by the Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF), Global Action for Trans* Equality (GATE) , the Center of Excellence for Transgender Health (CoE), the Harm Reduction Coalition, the International Network of People Who Use Drugs (INPUD), Different Avenues, and the Global Network of Sex Work Projects (NSWP).

The full list of recommendations and endorsements can be found online at http://www.msmgf.org/files/msmgf//Advocacy/Action_Alerts/AIDS2014_CCC_Signatures.pdf

 

CDC: HIV Cases Decline for Black Women, Increase for Gay Men

Some disturbing news. From Reuters:

The CDC reported that the number of new cases of HIV among black women declined 21 percent between 2008 and 2010, while the incidence of HIV among young gay and bisexual men rose by 22 percent in the same time frame. The rate of HIV infections among black women remains 20 times higher than the number of new cases in white women, and HIV-infected black women account for 70 percent of HIV incidence among all women. Men who have sex with men comprised almost two-thirds of all new HIV infections in 2010.

Joseph Prejean, chief of the Behavioral and Clinical Surveillance Branch in CDC’s Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention, attributed the decline in new HIV cases among black women to HIV testing and the success of HIV

Drugs

Drugs (Photo credit: Images_of_Money)

awareness campaigns. “Treatment advances” for AIDS may have caused young men to underestimate their risk and the health threat posed by HIV”, said Prejean. Although anti-retroviral treatment prolongs life, HIV-infected individuals can expect to take medicine for the rest of their lives, at an estimated lifetime cost of $400,000. (emphasis mine)

Young black men who have sex with men have the highest HIV incidence of any population group within the United States. An earlier CDC report stated that 26 percent of new HIV cases occurred among young people age 13 to 24. Half of HIV-infected young people do not know their HIV status, reported CDC Director Thomas Frieden, MD.

Read the full article here.

HIV-positive Women Find Support In Dating Again

 

Being HIV-positive is a challenge. Being HIV-positive and single is often a nightmare. We all want to love and be loved, but the barriers- social and psychological- for HIV-positive persons are high. From The Seattle Times:

 

Like many women with HIV/AIDS, Nicole Price worried about love and life, post-diagnosis. She now counsels HIV-positive women on forging romantic relationships, knowing each time out that disclosing one’s status can be a deal-breaker.

 

In 2000, Nicole Price’s ex-boyfriend fell ill. They had recently ended a five-year relationship, so she went to see him in the hospital. He had AIDS.

English: HIV positive dating

She got tested. She was 24.

“It was the longest two weeks of my life,” said Price, now 37. We thought we would get back together because we both had it.”

At the time of her diagnosis, Price was using meth and living in California when her mother, a Bothell resident, learned about a Seattle-based support group for HIV-positive women.

Within two years, she packed her bags for Bothell for a fresh start.

Like many women with HIV/AIDS, Price worried about love and life, post-diagnosis. Once she settled here, she became increasingly involved with the support group, BABES Network-YWCA, eventually rising to program manager. Price now counsels HIV-positive women on forging romantic relationships, knowing each time out that disclosing one’s status can be a deal-breaker.

“They can stop having sex altogether and never do it again,” Price said. “Some of our women have chosen to be in a lesbian relationship. Actually quite a few of our women have. I think they feel that betrayal. They feel like maybe they got betrayed, and now they have issues when it comes to men.”

Trusting a sexual partner and dealing with rejection are regular topics at BABES.

Through peer counseling, support groups, educational lectures and retreats, BABES tackles the challenge of maintaining relationships — especially romantic ones — after testing positive. Women take part in mock disclosures, an exercise meant to ease the stress of telling a partner about being HIV-positive.

“I encourage women to date when they’re ready. I ask them questions to see if they’re ready. When do you want to disclose your status? Are you ready for the response?” said Brenda Higgins, a BABES peer advocate.

“I’m never ready for the response I’m getting,” she added. “There’s really no way of preparing someone with that.”

 

Read the full story here

Hard Truths (About Gay Men & HIV)

From NAPWA’s Positive Voice Newsletter:

National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day – NGMHAAD – is coming September 27, three months to the day after National HIV Testing Day, and hard on the heels of July’s landmark International AIDS Conference (IAC) in Washington, D.C. We have two messages this year: Be aware, know your risk, and, Let’s end this epidemic! Because we matter – and we can.

Speaker after speaker at IAC returned to this year’s good but challenging news: yes, we still need more science to stamp out HIV – more and better antivirals, an effective vaccine, and a functional cure – but we already have all the biomedical tools we need to make new HIV infections a thing of the past. The hard part is reaching “key populations” – groups with high rates of existing infections and new infections because they have been marginalized, stigmatized, denied civil rights, and excluded from health care.

NGMHAAD is for one of those “key populations:” this country’s men who have sex with men (MSM). NAPWA founded NGMHAAD in 2008 because we want them to know the epidemic isn’t over. We want them to know how high their HIV risk really is – because so many are already infected, and too many don’t know it. And we want them to know that we’ve come a long way since AIDS was first reported in 1981, and even further since Stonewall, but stigma is still driving this epidemic and gay men don’t have to take it anymore.

So let’s look at some numbers and see what that the gay men’s HIV epidemic looks like in the U.S.

The July 28 issue of The Lancet opened an admirable series of articles on HIV among gay men worldwide with a look at epidemiology, and reported that HIV prevalence among men who have sex with men in its North American region is a jaw-dropping 15.4% – almost one in six. The real prevalence may be a little lower - The Lancet assumes that only 3.7% of American men are MSM, a number we think is too low, and raising the estimated number of MSM would reduce the calculated prevalence a little – but it’s still clear that prevalence is breathtakingly higher among MSM than in the rest of the population.

Let’s calculate just how much higher.

About 251 million Americans are 15 or older. If 5 percent of the men are MSM, we have 6.3 million MSM and 245 million “others” 15-and-older in this country. We’re all familiar with the CDC’s estimates that 1.2 million Americans are living with HIV, and 60% of them are MSM. That gives us 480,000 infections in 245 million “others,” for a prevalence of 0.2% – one in five hundred. It also gives us 720,000 infections in 6.3 million American MSM, for a prevalence of 11.5% – just shy of one in eight. HIV prevalence among American MSM is almost 60 times what it is in the rest of the population.

That means HIV-negative MSM who are active with partners whose status they don’t know are at much higher risk than many realize. So the first and most important message of National Gay Men’s Awareness Day is – simply – be aware. Know your status. Know your risk. If you aren’t absolutely sure you know your own and your partner’s status, keep your condoms handy.

In September 10’s Positive Voice, we’ll write about how we got to where we are and what’s needed to deal with the MSM epidemic on the ground. Why near-universal testing is so important when prevalence is already so high. The need to confront stigma and talk frankly about sex in communities where this is deeply uncomfortable. The need for pride and love. The need to have culturally competent and welcoming health care for MSM.

And in the September 24 issue, just three days before NGMHAAD, we’ll remember the quarter-million (at least) American MSM who have died of AIDS and examine our responsibility as their survivors to demand action to end this epidemic once and for all. Now that we can, we must.

‘Montanans With HIV’ makes the paper

Map of USA with Montana highlighted
Image via Wikipedia

The Great Falls Tribune yesterday did a featured story on HIV in Montana with several sidebars on testing and the classification of the disease from AIDS to HIV stages 1-3. Along with Trisha Gardner of the Cascade County Health Department, Dean Wells of the Yellowstone AIDS Project and an anonymous man living with HIV in Great Falls, I was interviewed for the piece, which, among other things, focused on the stigma of persons living with HIV in the state.

Excerpt:

On average, about 20 Montanans are diagnosed with the disease every year, said Trisha Gardner, community health education specialist and HIV case manager at the Cascade City-County Health Department.

“The number of newly diagnosed cases has held pretty steady every year,” Gardner said.

Overall, the number of people in Montana living with HIV is increasing because they are living longer, she said.

While that number is on the rise, most in Montana never publicly disclose they have HIV, Gardner said.

“They don’t have to,” she said. “For the most part it’s kept a pretty private issue.”

Many who live with the disease in Montana fear losing their jobs, friends or family, and even becoming a social outcast.

“My view is that the stigma definitely reduced over the years, but it’s still there,” said Dean Wells, executive director of the Yellowstone AIDS Project in Billings. “Many of our clients live in fear of someone finding out about it.”

John, a pseudonym because he fears losing his livelihood, was diagnosed with HIV eight and a half years ago.

Trying to be honest and open after his diagnosis, John told his employer.

“It wasn’t a week later, they asked me to find another job,” he said.

Fear and stigma is still with us but there’s a lot of hope in current HIV treatment and prevention.
The key is to get tested. HIV unsuppressed in the body does damage- sometimes very significant damage- which  cannot be reversed by treatment.

My Online Dating Post on Qweerty

It’s Toot My Own Horn Time!

My Bilerico post on online dating companies and STD’s made it on to Qweerty today- along with some other commentary- it’s a good read: http://www.queerty.com/should-online-hook-ups-sites-take-responsibility-for-spreading-hiv-and-stis-20110825/

 

Study: Simple Changes To Dating Sites Could Lower STD’s, HIV

Simple Changes to Dating Websites Could Decrease Spread of HIV and Sexually Transmitted Diseases

A study released today recommends eight ways to reduce transmission of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) among men who meet male sex partners online.

Owners of popular dating and “hook-up” websites and users of those websites, along with HIV and STD program directors, agreed that a few simple measures could have a major impact on the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.

Among the online measures supported by a majority of those surveyed:

• Including “safe sex” as a profile option and allowing users to search for partners by such characteristics
• Providing directories of STD testing locations
• Sending automatic reminders to get an HIV/STD test at regular intervals chosen by users
• Having chat-rooms and other areas for HIV+ men looking for other HIV+ men
• Providing e-cards to notify partners of a potential exposure to STDs
• Posting videos that show men discussing safe sex, HIV status, and related issues
• Providing access to sexual health experts

“Finding sex and love online is here to stay,” said Dan Wohlfeiler, one of the study’s authors working with the California HIV/STD Prevention Training Center for this project. “This shows how we can work with the website owners to turn the internet into a force for the health of their users.”

In California, gay and bisexual men who were diagnosed with syphilis or gonorrhea most frequently reported the Internet as where they met sex partners.

More than 3000 users, 82 state and local HIV and STD Program directors and 18 owners of dating and “hook-up “ websites completed the survey.

Jen Hecht, Education Director at STOP AIDS Project and co-author, said “Since all three groups agree these strategies are important, can be done, and would be used, we need to be getting them online now.”

The study also found a number of strategies with less support. Website owners expressed skepticism about health department staff going online to notify users that they might have been exposed to an STD. In contrast, a majority of HIV and STD prevention directors and users thought this strategy was important. The authors are planning follow-up meetings with owners to further understand their concerns.“We have rising rates of STDs among gay and bisexual men and turning that around means everyone needs to take responsibility for their sexual health,” said Bill Smith, Executive Director of the National Coalition of STD Directors (NCSD). “This study shows how public health professionals, as well the users and owners of sex seeking websites, can band together to make a real difference in securing the sexual health of gay men.”

The study, entitled “How Can We Improve HIV and STD Prevention Online for MSM” funded by amfAR, the Foundation for AIDS Research, was co-authored by H. Fisher Raymond and Willi McFarland at the San Francisco Department of Public Health. The results have been posted today at http://www.stopaids.org/online.