By Alvin Tran
When the AIDS epidemic began thirty years ago, it was portrayed by the media as a white, gay man’s disease. As depicted in a Frontline documentary premiering Tuesday night on PBS, that wasn’t the complete story then, and it’s not the case now.
“ENDGAME: AIDS in Black America” shows the tremendous disparity the HIV/AIDS epidemic has unleashed on the black community in the U.S. As Renata Simone, the documentary’s producer and director, described on KQED’s Forum Tuesday morning, African Americans make up about 12 percent of the nation’s population, but account for almost half of all people infected with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. “Everyday, about 156 people get infected with HIV and half are black,” she told Forum host Michael Krasny.
The documentary features personal stories and interviews from HIV-positive individuals who come from black communities across the country including Oakland. Simone interweaves the role of prejudice, stigma, drugs and prostitution in contributing to the spread of HIV deep in the black community. Continue reading
The FDA recently approved an over-the-counter, in-home HIV testing kit. (Photo: FDA.gov)
By Alvin Tran
Beginning this October, Americans will have the opportunity to test themselves for HIV in the comfort and privacy of their own homes. The OraQuick In-Home HIV Test will be the first ever self-administered HIV-test made available for over-the-counter purchase.
The Food and Drug Administration approved the test earlier this week, but it warned the test’s results are a “preliminary” diagnosis, so check-ups are still necessary. Some Bay Area researchers said a key challenge will be ensuring that people actually seek out a confirmation test and additional services from their doctors, regardless of testing positive or negative for the virus.
“The home test is another mechanism for testing but it shouldn’t be [used] in isolation,” said Tracey Packer, the Acting Director of HIV Prevention for the San Francisco Department of Public Health. Packer says that having an in-home HIV test raises the issue of people not getting accurate information.
“They have to know the test may take a while to become positive. It may take several months. If they’ve had a very recent exposure, getting a negative test result is not enough.”
According to the FDA, a positive test does not necessarily mean a person is HIV-positive. The FDA suggests that people who test positive to quickly seek confirmation with their doctors.
People with a negative test should also be wary. A negative test does not mean a person is free from HIV. Susan Buchbinder, MD, the Director of HIV Research Section at the San Francisco Department of Public Health, and a former panel member on the FDA’s advisory committee that recommended OraQuick’s approval, said OraQuick can’t determine if a person has contracted HIV within the past three months.
President Obama has tapped San Francisco’s own Dr. Grant Colfax to head the Office of National AIDS Policy in Washington, D.C. Dr. Colfax is the former director of HIV prevention and research at the San Francisco Department of Public Health.
Dr. Grant Colfax, newly appointed director of the Office of National AIDS Policy and former director of HIV prevention and research at the San Francisco Department of Public Health. (Photo: S.F. Dept. of Public Health)
In an interview on KQED’s Forum earlier this week Dr. Colfax was optimistic about a new phase in the fight against HIV. “We’ve had some striking scientific advances in prevention and care. We really are for the first time talking about an HIV-free generation,” Dr. Colfax told Forum’s Michael Krasny. To achieve that future Dr. Colfax said HIV testing should become a regular part of primary health care. “HIV testing needs to be part of routine primary care and we need to break down the stigma that is still unfortunately associated with HIV testing,” he emphasized.
People who are at higher risk of HIV infection like gay men, people with HIV-positive partners and people with many sexual partners should get tested often. San Francisco recommends gay men get tested every 6 months, especially because gay men represent almost two-thirds of new HIV cases domestically. African-American women are also much more likely to be infected for reasons that are still unclear to researchers. Continue reading
UCSF helped create a theater workshop for HIV-positive women suffering from PTSD and other forms of trauma. From left to right: theater participant Cassandra Steptoe, UCSF Professor Edward Machtinger & Rhodessa Jones of the theater group Cultural Odyssey. (Photo: UCSF).
Scientists know that women who have been traumatized or suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are more likely to be at risk for HIV.
Now two new studies published in the journal AIDS and Behavior show that HIV-positive women suffer disproportionately high rates of trauma and PTSD. In a vicious circle, the high rates of trauma lead to increased risk of further spreading the illness.
In the first study researchers at U.C. San Francisco and Harvard Medical School looked at nearly 6,000 HIV-positive women. They found HIV-positive women were twice as likely to experience violence from their partner and five times more likely to suffer from PTSD than the national average.
In the second smaller study of 113 HIV-positive women, researchers reported that women experiencing ongoing trauma were about four times more likely both to have unsafe sex and to fail taking antiretroviral medications correctly.
That combination of skipping medication and unsafe sex leads to alarming public health consequences, says lead author Edward Machtinger, who directs UCSF’s Women’s HIV Program. He said if a woman isn’t taking HIV medications properly, she is more infectious.
“Our hope is that screening for trauma and intervening for trauma becomes a required aspect of the care for all women with HIV.”
“And if that person is having unprotected sex with HIV-negative partners,” Machtinger told me, “that is a situation that predisposes further transmission more than any other. The conclusion that we come to is that trauma fuels all aspects of the HIV epidemic among women.”
By Bernice Yeung, California Watch
The antiretroviral drug Truvada. (Justin Sullivan: Getty Images)
Foster City drugmaker Gilead recently updated its application with the federal Food and Drug Administration for approval to market its HIV treatment medication Truvada as a HIV prevention pill.
If the FDA approves Truvada for preventive use, it “would be the first agent indicated for uninfected individuals to reduce the risk of acquiring HIV through sex,” according to a company statement at the time of the filing last month.
Gilead’s application, however, has sparked debate among public health advocates who argue that the wide availability of the drug would discourage safe sex and would, in fact, increase the incidence of HIV. Continue reading
Timed to today’s observance of World AIDS Day, California’s Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development released a brief [PDF] looking at over 20 years of hospitalization trends for people with HIV and AIDS.
The state’s analysis showed that the number of people living with HIV and AIDS is up most significantly among blacks and Hispanics. Between 1988 and 2008, the number of white people with HIV/AIDS had nearly doubled, but the number of cases for blacks had more than tripled and were up more than five times for Hispanics.
Native Americans and Asian/Pacific Islanders with HIV/AIDS were also up dramatically, although these groups represent a small percentage of the total number of Californians living with HIV/AIDS.
The State’s analysis looked in detail at hospitalization rates for people with HIV/AIDS and found they have dropped dramatically, largely due to the introduction of antiretroviral therapy in 1997.