CDC and HIV:
Activists denounce federal prevention efforts.
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)