Browsing Category: HIV/AIDS Awareness Days

A Front Row Seat to the HIV Scientific Revolution

photo - Charles StephensBy: Charles Stephens, AIDS United Southern Regional Organizer

The promise of the end of HIV seems more like a reality every day. Over 30 years into the epidemic, we have witnessed unprecedented scientific breakthroughs and innovation. Much of this happened in the past few years and in the biomedical HIV prevention realm. As Co-Chair of the Emory University Hope Clinic Community Advisory Board, one of the sites of the HVTN 505 study, I have a front-row seat to the HIV scientific revolution.

The Hope Clinic is one of the clinical trial sites for the HVTN 505 study. HVTN 505, branded in Atlanta as the Life Forward study, investigates the safety and potential efficacy of an HIV vaccine in gay and other men who have with men, and transgender women. As CAB members we provide insights and perspective around recruitment strategies, research dissemination, input on grant proposals, and assist in identifying strategic partners to move research projects forward.  One of our most important tasks however, is bridging the academy with the community. Members of our CAB include: HIV/AIDS service providers, community members, people that work with or specialize in African-American communities, women, transgender women, and gay and other men who have sex with men.

CAB members are indispensible to the research process.  Along with researchers, we forge a partnership built on a shared commitment to ending the epidemic.

I became interested in biomedical HIV prevention research advocacy several years ago. I was invited to attend a national meeting hosted at the Los Angeles Gay and Lesbian Center. The meeting was convened by the Community HIV/AIDS Mobilization Project (CHAMP and brought together a diverse group of researchers and activists to identify strategies for how to best advocate for biomedical HIV prevention.

My background up to that point had been in HIV/AIDS community organizing and behavioral intervention implementation. The hope of a HIV vaccine seemed very abstract to me, so when I learned about all of the robust research happening, my interest was sparked. When the concept of the “HIV prevention toolbox” was introduced at the meeting, and the value of having multiple approaches to HIV prevention: biomedical, behavioral, and structural, it really struck me. Interventions must be coupled with each other for maximum efficacy.

Since then, I have become very interested in the development of HIV vaccines, and the advancement of biomedical HIV prevention, along with behavioral and structural approaches.  I felt an urgency to see a vaccine developed for HIV, and this is what inspired me to join a CAB doing Vaccine research.

There are a number of substantial reasons to get involved with a CAB, particularly in the realm of biomedical HIV prevention, and vaccine research in particular. For one thing, to be able to ensure the interests and engagement of community members is key. Any successful research project requires various skill sets and perspectives so as to create the best and most impactful results. I have witnessed first-hand not only the significance of being involved in the planning of research grant proposals, but also the dissemination of data, including how to talk about and frame research findings and the best way to share them.

HIV vaccine researchers are responsible for not only facilitating the collection of data, and certainly analyzing the data, but also grappling with the implications of the data. This is significant because ultimately the implications of the data provide insights into conclusions that can be drawn and insight into the possibilities of future work and new directions. CAB members can offer considerably to this dialogue, and thus, the best ideas are brought to bear through diverse points of view.

As I reflect on my work on the CAB, this National HIV/AIDS Vaccine Awareness day, I am reminded of the enormous responsibility it is  – and how satisifying it is — to be involved in the research process as a community advocate. Vaccines, along with the other tools in our HIV prevention toolbox, will bring us one step closer to an HIV free generation, and fulfill our potential and the promise to end the epidemic.

AmeriCorps Week | Team Carolina

Team Carolina has been busy. For AmeriCorps Week, we traveled North Carolina to find individuals who embody the message: “Life does not stop after a positive diagnosis.” Our long term project started with an idea, and has now blossomed into the production of a public service announcement campaign. Millions of individuals get newly diagnosed every day. Without the proper support system, these individuals may feel lost and alone. Additionally, because HIV-related stigma may keep people from disclosing their status, they may lack the public education necessary in order to take the next step after a positive diagnosis. We aim to produce awareness and information that help relieve this problem.

When we conduct interviews, we ask our interviewees to answer our questions as if they are talking to an individual who has just been newly diagnosed.  As a result, we hear suggestive, honest, nostalgic, and regretful commentary. One of our goals for this project is for newly-diagnosed individuals who may see it to begin to feel like they have a community they can turn to.  As human beings, a sense of community is something we naturally long for. When a stranger who has been positive for twenty-some years is telling you that life will be okay, the message becomes not only powerful, but intimate.

Team Carolina has conducted over ten interviews and the footage is truly inspiring. We have traveled from Charlotte to Greensboro to Fayetteville, while also recording anecdotes within the Triangle Area of North Carolina as well. Once interviews are completed, the editing process will begin. Our goal: one short public service announcement, one long(er) informational piece, and several commercial-length videos. It would be a dream if AIDS service organizations across the country could use the footage as an avenue to reach newly diagnosed people in their area. To launch the finished project, we plan on having a screening party with other local AmeriCorps teams, several AIDS Service Organizations, and the local community and media.

All of this could not have been possible without the assistance from AIDS United, and the University of North Carolina Center for AIDS Research. They have enabled us to maximize our resources in order to cover the various facets of this production.

Wear the Ribbon for Women on March 10

by Vignetta Charles, Ph. D.,
Senior Vice President, AIDS United

Did you know that March 10 is a disease awareness day that focuses on a health issue that disproportionately impacts U.S. women ?

If you realized that it was National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day (NWGHAAD, give yourself a gold star. If you didn’t, don’t fret. You are certainly not the only one who may not see the HIV/AIDS epidemic as a serious health issue for women and girls in the United States.

But it is. According to the CDC, nearly 300,000 women in the United States are living with HIV. Women and girls are becoming infected at alarming rates – particularly black women. In fact, the HIV rate among black women living in some U.S. cities is the same rate as that of some African countries, according to a new study presented last week at the 19TH Conference of Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections (CROI).  And there are huge disparities in how HIV/AIDS affects women in our country. In 2009, the rate of new HIV infections among black women was 15 times that of white women, and over 3 times the rate among Hispanic/Latina women.

As a woman, and as someone who has focused on women’s sexual health issues for a great deal of my career, I am particularly proud to be working for an organization that has really stepped up to the plate to support women-focused, community-based HIV/AIDS prevention, care and advocacy programs for our nation’s women and girls. AIDS United combines strategic grantmaking, capacity-building, public policy and advocacy to advance its mission to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States.

Since its inception, AIDS United has worked with and through our country’s populations most vulnerable to the epidemic. We know that reaching these diverse communities is not a one size fits all approach. To address the unique and specific needs of women living with or at risk for HIV, we support a healthy diversity in our projects and strategies.

In our Access to Care (A2C) initiative, three of our 10 grantees have developed programs targeting women. Christie’s Place’s Change for Women (C4W) program in San Diego is helping the city’s underserved HIV-positive Latina population get into and stay in care. AIDS Action Committee of Massachusetts’ Project LEAP (Learning, Educating, Advocating with Peers) program is reaching women of color in Greater Boston living with HIV/AIDS and helping to improve their health outcomes. Washington AIDS Partnership’s Positive Pathways program in the District of Columbia is recruiting HIV-positive women to become Community Health Workers that identify other out-of-care women, build peer-based trust with them, help them navigate service systems and provide them support during their early part of their medical care.

Our Southern REACH (Regional Expansion of Access and Capacity to Address HIV/AIDS) initiative supports women-focused HIV advocacy projects in the Southern region of the United States. SisterLove, an organization in Atlanta, developed Pandora’s Promise for Women’s Health and Rights Equality, a program to amplify the strong, leadership voices of women living with HIV as advocates. New Orleans organization Women with A Vision, through its NO Justice project, advocates for change in criminalization laws that disproportionately impact women.

But it is our groundbreaking community-science partnership with Johnson & Johnson called GENERATIONS: Strengthening Women and Families Affected by HIV/AIDS that has been AIDS United’s flagship program targeting women and girls. The program combines AIDS United’s strengths of community-focused grantmaking and technical assistance with Johnson & Johnson’s commitment to supporting HIV prevention efforts for at-risk women and their families.

GENERATIONS provides capacity-building services through a unique community science collaborative model. The combination of cash grants, evidence-based prevention models, technical assistance and evaluation support all promote the development or adaptation of evidence-based programming to meet the needs of marginalized groups of women at high risk for HIV infection.

“The power of the GENERATIONS collaboration multiplies the unique strengths of each partner.” said Dr. Anu Gupta, Director of Corporate Contributions at Johnson & Johnson. “By leveraging programs that rely on evidence and measureable results, we know we are truly making a difference in the lives of so many women and girls in this country who are most at risk for HIV.”

AIDS United has learned so much from GENERATIONS and our other women-focused work. Now we must combine approaches to meet the needs of the whole woman. We must provide her with easily accessible and easy-to-use services, tools and treatment that work with her lifestyle and help her stay healthy and protect others. Because she may need more than just learning how to put on a condom — she also must be economically empowered enough to leave a partner who refuses to use one. She may also need the protection of medical technology like microbicides or other antiretroviral-based prevention strategies. And we want to ensure that she has all that she needs to thrive.

By providing the most at-risk populations of women in our country with a vital, comprehensive, culturally-appropriate system of HIV prevention and care services, we are helping their sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, friends and community.

HIV/AIDS is indeed a serious health issue for women in our country. On this National Women and Girls HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, let’s don our ribbon – our RED ribbon, and let’s do more than observe. Let’s create an AIDS-free generation of women and girls.

PrEP, African-Americans, and the Future of Prevention

Charles Stephensby Charles Stephens, Regional Organizer, Southern  Region

African-Americans remain the population most disproportionately impacted by HIV in the United States . Comprising only 14% of the population in 2009, they accounted for 44% of HIV infections that year. Of the 1.1 million people living with HIV in the United States, 545,000 are African-American. In addition, new HIV infections among young African-American men who have sex with me (MSM) increased by 48% from 2006–2009. This suggests the urgency and critical place we find ourselves in as we grapple with the HIV epidemic in African-American communities that are facing the most severe burden of the epidemic.  HIV in the United States will not be eradicated until it’s confronted head on in the African-American community.

Over the past three decades there have been a number of key advances in HIV prevention. Condom education for example, has become an institutionalized part of comprehensive sexual health education. We have also seen the overwhelming success of syringe exchange programs as another critical step in reducing HIV infection among injecting drug users. Over the past few years, the advances in biomedical HIV prevention have offered additional hopeful signs in our HIV prevention efforts. Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis or (PrEP), is one of those advances. PrEP is a strategy in which HIV negative people take HIV medicine (antiretrovirals or ARVs) prior to a possible HIV exposure to reduce  risk of infection. Using ARVs to decrease the risk of HIV transmission has already been successful in reducing transmission in HIV positive mothers to their infants.

Two recent studies make this point even clearer, demonstrating that PrEP can be both safe and effective. The iPrEx study was a multinational randomized controlled study in 2,499 HIV-negative men who have sex with men (MSM) and transgender women who have sex with men. The Partners PrEP study enrolled 4,758 HIV serodiscordant couples, in which one partner has HIV and the other does not, from nine research sites in Kenya and Uganda. Both studies indicated the safety and efficacy of PrEP within their respective populations.

With the proliferation of information about PrEP, especially as information is disseminated into communities, there has been understandable excitement, caution, and in some cases alarm. The Final Call, the newspaper of the Nation of Islam recently published a story about PrEP and black communities. The article highlighted some of the anxieties and concerns that the introduction of PrEP into our national HIV prevention toolbox might create. Understandably the present relationship and history between researchers and marginalized communities have contributed to some of the ambivalence. Any mention of scientific research and African-Americans is usually coupled with reflections of Tuskegee.  Tuskegee refers to the now infamous research conducted from 1932 and 1972 in Tuskegee, Alabama by the U.S. Public Health Service to study syphilis that went untreated in poor black men. The black men in the study thought they were receiving free health care from the government. In the aftermath of Tuskegee there have been a number of precautions taken and policies implemented to ensure the safety and understanding of study participants. There has also been the development of very successful community engagement programs like The Legacy Project. The Legacy Project is an initiative of The Office of HIV/AIDS Network Coordination (HANC), and has sought to remedy the broken relationship with education, and even promote the value of participating and engaging in research to people of color.

Currently, Gilead Sciences Inc. is seeking approval with the US Food and Drug Administration for the HIV drug Truvada to be used as PrEP. And if approved, will present another historical milestone for the history of the HIV epidemic in this country.

Besides effectively engaging communities another challenge is cost. Cost of expensive HIV drugs, staffing support to ensure treatment adherence, and expanded HIV testing and counseling efforts, is a inescapable factor to successful deployment of our HIV prevention toolbox.  As government assisted AIDS Drug Assistance Programs (ADAP) waiting lists grow, what does it mean to provide HIV medications to negative people? There are very tough questions we have to struggle with.

The HIV rates among African-Americans indicate that innovation in prevention is not only a scientific necessity, but a moral one. The implications around PrEP and African-American communities is a highly complex issue that must be examined both with rigor and courage.   One thing is certain, we need more research into how PrEP operates in a real-world context, particularly within the African-American community. This National Black HIV/AIDS Awareness Day provides us an opportunity to acknowledge the challenges such strategies like PrEP, but also the hope of effectively reducing HIV rates in African-American communities.

The King In Our Midst: Team D.C. @ The National Cathedral

Team DC MLK Day 1It was quite fitting that Team D.C. did its MLK Day of Service at the Washington National Cathedral.  Ironically, a few days before the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., he spoke at the Cathedral’s pulpit on March 31, 1968, which happened to be his final sermon.  The title of his sermon was titled, “Remaining awake through a great revolution.”  To us, this speaks volumes. Right now, the AIDS epidemic is going through many changes and breakthroughs as it works to establish an AIDS-free generation.  It is very important that we continue to fight the fight and “remain awake” throughout what is taking place!  Like Martin Luther King, Jr. it is important to stand boldly and confidently in the things that you believe in if you want change to take place!

Team D.C. members started off their day of service at Soka Gakkai Buddhist Cultural Center, collecting clothing that were dropped off for a clothing drive.  There, we sorted and bagged the clothing that was dropped off by members of the community.

Team DC MLK Day 2Later on in the day, the rest of the members walked over to the National Cathedral where we talked to high school scholars about the importance of doing community service, especially when applying to college.  Each of us went around and talked about the AmeriCorps and what we did at each of our agencies.  It was exciting to talk with these young people because just a few years ago, we were in their shoes.  It is always good to share insight with youth who want to make a difference in their communities!  From there, we joined forces with the high school scholars and split up into groups.  Some of our team helped with the food drive, some ushered for the ceremony that was taking place in honor of Dr. King, and some helped sort out donated books that would be going to different organizations around D.C. that lacked resources!

The ceremony started off with a processional where I.J., Nia and Ryan were chosen to carry the donated food, clothes, and books to the altar.  Following that, lots of great performances ensued.  Dancers and drummers, gospel choirs, and spoken word artists from all over D.C. performed to give tribute to the legacy of Dr. King.  Through music and dance, each performer brought in a different aspect of the city’s rich heritage.

No matter if you were raking leaves, serving food, or reconstructing homes throughout your city, each service project reflects Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s love for service which promotes and uplifts unity and peace in our communities.  Now we must ask ourselves, what can we do and what must be done to promote HIV/AIDS awareness while still uplifting and uniting the communities that are being overlooked and ignored by society?

World AIDS Day in New Mexico

On this day of worldwide recognition for those living with and those who have already passed from HIV/AIDS, not to mention increasing numbers of HIV infection rates  amongst younger people, Team New Mexico was able to collaborate with the New Mexico Department of Health and the University of New Mexico LGBTQ Resource Center in Albuquerque to provide HIV testing for all students. We split up to administer tests at three locations set up throughout the campus giving students multiple opportunities to get tested during the day - The Student Union Building, El Centro de la Raza (Student Affairs), and the LGBTQ Resource Center. The turnout was great being that the temperature was in the 20s, and wind gusts reached up to 44mph.

Two weeks later, the NMDOH returned for a ”Results Day.”  Out of the 33 tests administered on World AIDS Day, 20 results were given. The response to the event could not have been better.