At­lanta at the cen­ter of HIV/AIDS news this month

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Ge­or­gia ranks sec­ond in the U.S. in the rate of new HIV in­fec­tions and At­lanta is fifth among met­ro­pol­i­tan ar­eas ac­cord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion. So per­haps it’s ap­pro­pri­ate that At­lanta would be at the cen­ter of a flurry of HIV/ AIDS news, ini­tia­tives and events this first half of De­cem­ber.

It be­gan on the morn­ing of Dec. 1 on World AIDS Day when the Ful­ton County Task Force on HIV/AIDS un­veiled phase one of their strat­egy to not only fight, but end the dis­ease. The re­port was the re­sult of a year-long process since the task force was es­tab­lished by the Ful­ton County Board of Com­mis­sion­ers last De­cem­ber fol­low­ing the release of data show­ing that, among other things, 25 per­cent of those in­fected with HIV in Ge­or­gia live in Ful­ton County. Young, black gay and bi­sex­ual men were hit es­pe­cially hard by the in­fec­tion.

The task force had many rec­om­men­da­tions for making peo­ple more aware of their HIV sta­tus, in­clud­ing ex­pan­sion of rou­tine opt-out test­ing, wide­spread use of new “4th gen­er­a­tion” HIV tests that are able to de­tect the in­fec­tion ear­lier, and more.

As far as preven­tion, the task force cited that lit­tle blue pill that ev­ery­one’s been talk­ing about re­cently, say­ing, “im­ple­ment­ing com­bi­na­tion preven­tion in­clud­ing scal­ing up PrEP among those at high­est risk of HIV in­fec­tion will also help in de­creas­ing the num­ber of new di­ag­noses.”

In­creased ac­cess to nee­dle ex­changes, in­creas­ing the num­ber of con­doms dis­trib­uted, and cor­rect­ing the bu­reau­cratic and lead­er­ship is­sues that re­sulted in the Ful­ton County Depart­ment of Health and Well­ness re­turn­ing $3.6 mil­lion in fed­eral HIV preven­tion funds were among the other rec­om­men­da­tions.

The task force will release a full, com­pre­hen­sive strat­egy to end AIDS in Ful­ton County next June.

De­cem­ber 11, 2015

Daniel Drif­fin, one of the HIV-pos­i­tive youth tak­ing part in the HIV Youth Pol­icy Ad­vi­sors Pro­gram, makes his pre­sen­ta­tion on World AIDS Day. (Photo by Pa­trick Saunders) “I be­lieve the laws should be mod­ern­ized to re­flect the fact that peo­ple who do know their HIV sta­tus, do use con­doms and will take their med­i­ca­tion will pre­vent trans­mis­sion to oth­ers, but you can’t even get peo­ple to get tested if you tell them they’ll be a walk­ing felon.”

Sev­eral mem­bers of the Ful­ton County Task Force on HIV/AIDS were among the roughly 100 in at­ten­dance later that morn­ing of World AIDS Day at the HIV Youth Pol­icy Ad­vi­sors Pro­gram pre­sen­ta­tion at the Na­tional Cen­ter for Civil and Hu­man Rights.

The pro­gram, cre­ated by Ge­or­gia Equal­ity, matches elected of­fi­cials and clergy with HIV-pos­i­tive youth ad­vo­cates who serve as their spe­cial ad­vi­sors on the is­sue. Daniel Drif­fin, one of the HIV-pos­i­tive youths in the pro­gram, han­dled the bulk of the pre­sen­ta­tion, get­ting a par­tic­u­larly strong re­ac­tion from the crowd af­ter call­ing on the state to ex­pand Med­i­caid.

“In ev­ery meet­ing you go to from now on, just drop a slide in about Med­i­caid ex­pan­sion,” Drif­fin said to ap­plause.

HIV crim­i­nal­iza­tion was an­other hot-but­ton topic that drew sup­port, thanks in no small part to pol­icy ad­vi­sor Nina Martinez’s tes­ti­mony on the mat­ter.

“I have not had a per­sonal re­la­tion­ship in 10 years be­cause ba­si­cally the law al­lows you to lit­i­gate a lie, a lie in which my sex­ual part­ner does have ac­cess to know the truth about my HIV sta­tus,” she told the crowd. “One is Google...and two is cou­ples-based test­ing and coun­sel­ing. Ev­ery­one should have the right to do that. So I be­lieve the laws should be mod­ern­ized to re­flect the fact that peo­ple who do know their HIV sta­tus, do use con­doms and will take their med­i­ca­tion will pre­vent trans­mis­sion to oth­ers, but you can’t even get peo­ple to get tested if you tell them they’ll be a walk­ing felon.”

Na­tional HIV con­fer­ence draws counter-con­fer­ence

More than 3,000 HIV ex­perts de­scended on At­lanta Dec. 6-9 for the 2015 Na­tional HIV Preven­tion Con­fer­ence (NHPC). Nu­mer­ous pan­els, ple­nary ses­sions and de­bates were held through­out the con­fer­ence ad­dress­ing a va­ri­ety of is­sues sur­round­ing the sub­ject.

Among the find­ings re­leased dur­ing the con­fer­ence, southern states lag be­hind the rest of the na­tion in HIV treat­ment and test­ing, and death rates among those liv­ing with HIV in southern states are three times higher than those in other re­gions of the coun­try.

“CDC is re­spond­ing to the chal­lenge of HIV in the South and na­tion­wide by pri­or­i­tiz­ing the hard­est-hit ar­eas and pop­u­la­tions and in­vest­ing in the most ef­fec­tive strate­gies,” said Eu­gene McCray, M.D., di­rec­tor of CDC’s Di­vi­sion of HIV/AIDS Preven­tion in a state­ment.

There was mixed data af­ter the an­nounce­ment that an­nual HIV di­ag­noses in the United States fell by 19 per­cent from 2005 to 2014, but gay and bi­sex­ual men of color showed in­creases of over 22 per­cent in the same time­frame, and young black gay and bi­sex­ual men ages 13-24 see­ing an alarm­ing 87 per­cent in­crease.

How­ever, a num­ber of HIV/AIDS groups and activists mounted a counter-con­fer­ence to the NHPC, which took place at the Na­tional Cen­ter for Civil and Hu­man Rights and was hosted by The LGBT In­sti­tute.

The groups, which in­cluded At­lanta’s Counter Nar­ra­tive Project and SisterLove Inc. among roughly 20 other or­ga­ni­za­tions from across the coun­try, crit­i­cized the NHPC for not de­vot­ing enough re­sources to HIV crim­i­nal­iza­tion, in­te­gra­tion of re­pro­duc­tive jus­tice and sex­ual health, hous­ing and health­care ac­cess for those liv­ing with HIV in the South, up­hold­ing hu­man rights for trans­gen­der peo­ple, sex work­ers and oth­ers. They also crit­i­cized the Of­fice of Na­tional AIDS Pol­icy’s Fed­eral Ac­tion Plan for many of the same rea­sons.

Of­fi­cials with NHPC and ONAP did not re­spond to a re­quest for com­ment on the counter-con­fer­ence.

By PA­TRICK SAUNDERS

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