CDC and HIV:

Ac­tivists de­nounce fed­eral preven­tion ef­forts.

GA Voice - - Front Page - By PA­TRICK SAUN­DERS psaun­ders@the­gavoice.com

Amid trou­bling statis­tics, a team of HIV/ AIDS ac­tivists from New York teamed with At­lanta ac­tivists to call out the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion on their strate­gies and sense of ur­gency in a June 10 press con­fer­ence.

“There is an HIV preven­tion emer­gency in the United States to­day,” said Jim Eigo of ACT UP/NY. “But you won’t hear any of the fed­eral of­fi­cials who have been charged with man­ag­ing this epi­demic is­su­ing a call to ac­tion any­time soon.”

Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from ACT UP/NY and Treat­ment Ac­tion Group, along with At­lanta groups Trans­gen­der In­di­vid­u­als Liv­ing Their Truth (TILTT), Sis­terLove and At­lanta Harm Re­duc­tion Coali­tion met with the CDC’s HIV preven­tion per­son­nel on June 9 to dis­cuss their con­cerns and present the “At­lanta Prin­ci­ples,” a se­ries of pro­posed ac­tions they say the CDC should take (see side­bar).

While the num­ber of new cases of HIV in the U.S. has held steady for the past decade at 50,000 per year, new cases of HIV among gay and bi­sex­ual men and trans­gen­der women has spiked, ac­cord­ing to lo­cal and na­tional stud­ies.

More trou­bling here at home, a re­cent Emory School of Pub­lic Health study shows that 12 per­cent of At­lanta’s young gay black men are con­tract­ing HIV ev­ery year and 60 per­cent of sex­u­ally ac­tive young gay black men have a chance of be­com­ing in­fected by the time they are 30.

‘BUSINESS AS USUAL NOT CUT­TING IT’

While say­ing they were re­ceived cor­dially, mem­bers of the group said they were left with con­cerns, as they dis­cussed in the June 10 press con­fer­ence at the Em­bassy Suites at Cen­ten­nial Park.

The most fre­quent crit­i­cisms were about the CDC’s ef­forts at pro­mot­ing newer preven­tion op­tions and the lack of rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the trans­gen­der com­mu­nity in HIV/ AIDS statis­tics.

The spe­cific HIV preven­tion op­tions the groups want the CDC to pro­mote more ag­gres­sively in­clude:

Treat­ment as Preven­tion (TasP): For those in­fected with HIV, sus­tain­ing an un­de­tectable vi­ral load will greatly re­duce the chances of trans­mit­ting the virus to oth­ers.

Tru­vada: This med­i­ca­tion can be taken once daily as Pre-Ex­po­sure Pro­phy­laxis (PrEP) to pre­vent HIV in neg­a­tive peo­ple at risk.

Post-Ex­po­sure Pro­phy­laxis (PEP): If ex­posed to HIV, tak­ing anti-HIV med­i­ca­tions as soon as pos­si­ble (within 72 hours) after the fact can re­duce the chances of in­fec­tion.

“If there was one over­whelm­ing feel­ing and mes­sage that we got from the CDC was a to­tal sort of in­dif­fer­ence,” said James Krel­len­stein of ACT UP/NY. “A to­tal sort of business as usual ap­proach to HIV preven­tion. But we know for a fact that business as usual is not cut­ting it.”

Jeremiah John­son of New York-based Treat­ment Ac­tion Group con­curred, call­ing the CDC’s over­all mo­men­tum in tack­ling the dis­ease “slow” and “plod­ding.”

‘WE’VE BEEN IN­VIS­I­BLY DY­ING’

It also was not lost on the HIV/AIDS ac­tivists that the CDC is based in At­lanta, where a very trou­bling num­ber of new HIV in­fec­tions have oc­curred.

“If they can­not get it right in At­lanta, how can the coun­try ex­pect them to get it right any­where else?” said Da­zon Dixon Diallo of Sis­terLove.

But the most pas­sion­ate com­ments came re­gard­ing the trans­gen­der com­mu­nity’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion in HIV/AIDS statis­tics.

“Ev­ery in­volved stake­holder must be ad­dressed,” said Ch­eryl Court­ney-Evans of trans­gen­der rights group TILTT, who be­came emo­tional dis­cussing the trans­gen­der friends she’s lost to the dis­ease. “We’ve been in­vis­i­bly dy­ing.”

Mathew Ro­driguez of ACT UP/NY spoke up for young gay men of color, say­ing the out­reach to his com­mu­nity and the embrace of proven means of HIV preven­tion has been dis­ap­point­ing.

“If the CDC were to im­ple­ment HIV in­ter­ven­tions that were ac­ces­si­ble to young gay men of color, it would treat us as sex­ual, healthy be­ings and with dig­nity,” Ro­driguez said. “It might pro­mote a nar­ra­tive of hope that coun­ters a nar­ra­tive of in­evitabil­ity.”

CDC DE­FENDS HIV PREVEN­TION EF­FORTS

The CDC re­sponded to the GA Voice’s re­quest for com­ment, out­lin­ing the steps it has taken in re­gards to preven­tion ef­forts.

“CDC re­cently is­sued com­pre­hen­sive, na­tional guid­ance on pre-ex­po­sure pro­phy­laxis (PrEP) for peo­ple at sub­stan­tial risk for in­fec­tion,” said Dr. Ken­neth G. Castro, act­ing di­rec­tor of the Di­vi­sion of HIV/AIDS Preven­tion at the CDC.

“Ad­di­tion­ally, CDC is also im­ple­ment­ing a wide range of preven­tion ed­u­ca­tional ef­forts to equip high-risk in­di­vid­u­als, in­clud­ing gay and bi­sex­ual men, and those who care for them with ac­cu­rate in­for­ma­tion about preven­tion op­tions such as PrEP, post-ex­po­sure pro­phy­laxis (PEP) and treat­ment as preven­tion,” Castro con­tin­ued.

A new ad cam­paign, fea­tured in the GA Voice and on the GA Voice web­site, is also part of its new ed­u­ca­tional ef­forts.

“CDC’s re­cently-launched ‘Start Talk­ing. Stop HIV’ com­mu­ni­ca­tion cam­paign for gay and bi­sex­ual men ac­knowl­edges the in­creas­ingly com­plex preven­tion land­scape and the need to con­sider bio­med­i­cal and be­hav­ioral op­tions that best fit a per­son’s cir­cum­stances in both the pro­mo­tional ma­te­ri­als and the more de­tailed web con­tent.”

Castro said the CDC is look­ing for­ward to con­tin­u­ing a di­a­logue with the groups.

The ac­tivists left the CDC with a copy of the “At­lanta Prin­ci­ples” to re­view and they will be fol­low­ing up with the or­ga­ni­za­tion with ac­tion steps and re­quests for a follow-up meet­ing.

Terri Wilder and James Krel­len­stein of ACT UP/NY; Adolph Ar­ro­mand, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the At­lanta-based Na­tional AIDS & Ed­u­ca­tions Ser­vices for Mi­nori­ties; and Craig Wash­ing­ton, pre­ven­tions pro­grams man­ager of AID At­lanta. (Photo by Pa­trick Saun­ders)

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