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AIDS and HIV

Previewing West Hollywood’s AIDS Monument

‘STORIES’ will peer into the heart of an epidemic and the foundation of a community

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‘STORIES: The AIDS Monument’ will occupy West Hollywood Park’s pool and auditorium area and the hearts and minds of WeHoans. (Renderings by Urban Arts Project and the Foundation for The AIDS Monument)

In just a scant couple of years, West Hollywood will finally have an AIDS monument.

Titled “STORIES: The AIDS Monument,” it is meant to embody the bittersweet history of a city originally created to protect the LGBTQ community, and one also profoundly impacted by the viral epidemic that brought it to its knees.

Foundation for The AIDS Monument executive director, Michael Ferrera says the monument’s mission is more than just remembering the people who died, but also a representation of a movement that received its civil rights.

“STORIES” was designed by Australian artist Daniel Tobin, of Urban Arts Project.

“Tobin is well-versed in insinuating art into a community with a message and a mission to create social change in some way,” Ferrera told the Los Angeles Blade.

“His design has been adopted, and now we’re in the middle of a formal design which includes getting community feedback and engagement. We don’t want to build a monument that doesn’t resonate with the community,” Ferrera added.

According to the Foundation for The AIDS Monument website, “STORIES” will memorialize the devastation of AIDS on the nation and will honor the courage of activists, caregivers and community leaders. Visitors to the site can upload memorials, including written stories, videos and images of lost loved ones.

“The piece is intended to tell the world that you can’t let another disease get out of control because you don’t like the people who’re getting it,” Ferrera says.

Over the next year and half the design process will be worked on in conjunction with the city. In 2018, UAP will begin to fabricate the elements to install the monument in West Hollywood Park. It will sit where right now the auditorium and pool are. Those will be raised, a platform will be built, and the piece should be in place by the end of 2019.

West Hollywood and Foundation for The AIDS Monument also hired a company called Wondros. Wondros focuses on story collecting and was brought into the process to identify the important stakeholders — the movers and shakers in the HIV/AIDS world and people in the community who are providing HIV/AIDS services today.

Wondros goes through a process called ‘ecology mapping,’ in which they use the stakeholders to learn who the other opinion leaders are, and who might want to express ideas about the project. Then they bring themes out of what they learn, and record them for the artist, so he can change or adjust the design accordingly.

Ferrera says a couple of ideas have already emerged from the ecology mapping that hadn’t been thought of prior.

“We’re thinking of adding ‘sound-scaping,’ so that when viewers walk into the monument they’ll hear voices or music to help enhance the experience; or possibly choosing quotes from notable West Hollywood citizens who died of AIDS,” Ferrera says.

Ferrera says his desire is that the monument represents the entire region of Los Angeles, and includes a diversity of stories and demographics.

“I want the young generation not to get HIV unnecessarily, because we know how to stop the spread as long as they’re in treatment, they have the information, and they understand that every right they have today was earned by those people who fought for the rights and for people with AIDS.”

Many of the most prominent AIDS services aren’t necessarily located in WeHo. The Los Angeles LGBT Center, the largest LGBT organizations in the world offering treatment and doing research is centered in Hollywood. The Black AIDS Institute is located in Westlake, and there’s another AIDS memorial in Los Angeles called The Wall Las Memorias, located in East Los Angeles.

Los Angeles has an estimated population of 3.9 million people. Since the epidemic began 31 years ago, about 31,000 individuals have been diagnosed with AIDS, 13,000 of them still are living.

In 2016, 36.7 million people were living with HIV worldwide, and 1.8 million people became newly infected with HIV — 160,000 are under the age of 15. About 4,932 people will become infected with HIV each day—roughly 205 every hour.

“I came to WeHo to come out when I was 25 years old. The city embraced me and gave me everything I needed to work on becoming a healthy gay man. I met the guy who I ended up marrying, and we were married for 23 years. Within a month after saying our vows, he found out he was HIV positive. We thought he was going to die.

“This monument represents the people who embraced people like me and gave us the opportunity to feel good about ourselves and to feel positive. This horrible and traumatic experience came upon us, and WeHo was a warm and accepting family with unconditional love. The monument is a tribute to that,” Ferrera says.

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AIDS and HIV

Iconic landmarks in Los Angeles to light up red on World AIDS Day

This year’s theme, “Putting Ourselves to the Test: Achieving Equity to End HIV,” calls out the disproportionate impact across sub-populations

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Los Angeles Blade graphic

LOS ANGELES –  As Angelenos mark World AIDS Day, several prominent landmarks around Los Angeles County– including Union Station, City Hall/Grand Park Fountain, Dignity Health Sports Park, LAX Pylons, and Six Street Viaduct — will switch their evening architectural lighting to all red to increase awareness about HIV/AIDS, show solidarity in the fight against HIV, and honor those who have died due to HIV disease.

World AIDS Day, observed each year on December 1, provides the opportunity to honor and remember the more than 40 million people worldwide, including over 27,000 Los Angeles County (LAC) residents lost to HIV/AIDS since this epidemic began.

This year’s World AIDS Day theme, “Putting Ourselves to the Test: Achieving Equity to End HIV,” calls attention to the disproportionate impact of HIV across sub-populations, particularly across race, gender, sexual orientation and geographic lines. 

Los Angeles County has an estimated 59,400 people living with HIV and in 2021 there were 1,479 new HIV diagnoses reported, mostly among gay men, African-Americans, Latinos, and transgender persons.

“We thank our partners across the community who have been working for decades to increase awareness and prevention of HIV/AIDS and provide services and support for those living with HIV, “and honor those in our communities we lost to this terrible disease,” said Barbara Ferrer, PhD, MPH, MEd, Director of Public Health. “More than anything, as we honor, on World AIDS Day, those in our communities we lost to this terrible disease, we re-commit ourselves to the work to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which continues to disproportionately impact communities of color and the LGBTQ community.”

Public Health works with others to help bring an end to the epidemic by reducing the number of new annual HIV infections, decreasing the number of undiagnosed people living with HIV, and increasing the viral suppression rates among people who are diagnosed with HIV.

Public Health collaborates with a broad cross-section of diverse community partners to implement community-driven outreach and education, community-based HIV/STD testing, linkage to care, intensive street-based case management, and clinic-based services.  Recently, Public Health has spearheaded innovative programming through our many new Ending the HIV Epidemic (EHE) Initiatives (www.lacounty.hiv), expanded HIV testing access through both community-based partners and the  www.takemehome.com testing initiative, ongoing efforts to prevent homelessness among persons living with HIV; enhanced outreach efforts to the transgender community through our TransInLA Instagram and Facebook pages and supporting HIV-positive individuals with accessing lifesaving medication. Research shows that suppressing HIV to undetectable levels virtually eliminates transmission of the virus to sexual partners.

Public Health encourages people to learn more about HIV, know their HIV status, and, if necessary, access free life-saving HIV medications and services.  To learn more about HIV and STDs and locate HIV testing, services, and resources, please visit www.getprotectedla.com and http://publichealth.lacounty.gov/dhsp/

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AIDS and HIV

GLAAD study: Signs of progress in efforts to combat HIV stigma

Some of the conclusions from GLAAD’s study have broader applicability to the stigmatization of other diseases and health conditions

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Stop HIV Stigma (screen capture from CDC's YouTube channel)

NEW YORK – A welcome sign that some progress has been made in efforts to combat stigma, data from a forthcoming study by GLAAD found that Americans have become increasingly comfortable interacting with people who are living with HIV.

GLAAD, the largest LGBTQ media advocacy organization, shared an advance copy of its 2022 State of HIV Stigma Study with the Washington Blade ahead of its release Thursday during World AIDS Day.

The study’s documentation of the substantial increase in the percentage of respondents who said they would feel comfortable interacting with people living with HIV — up from 36 percent in 2020 to 43 percent this year — was hardly the only metric pointing to possible improvements with respect to the stigmatization of HIV in America.

At the same time, other findings in the report present a grimmer picture. As GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement, the data underscores the need to “dramatically accelerate public health messaging about HIV and visibility about HIV in the media for it to be understood as the treatable, untransmittable and preventable condition it is.”

Ninety percent of respondents said they believe stigma around HIV persists, Ellis noted. And GLAAD’s study offers some insight into how and why, looking at a variety of different types of evidence.

For example, it documents the prevalence of false and medically inaccurate beliefs about how and to whom the virus is transmitted (revealing that fewer people now believe “only certain groups of people get HIV.”) It assesses the extent to which respondents saw stories in the media about people living with HIV (with only one in three reporting that they had.) And it provides some insight into the relative efficacy of public health messaging around risk reduction strategies (a good sign: Knowledge about the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis for the prevention of HIV has increased.)

Some of the conclusions that can be gleaned from GLAAD’s study have broader applicability to the stigmatization of other diseases and health conditions.

Last month, the group published a summary of its qualitative interviews on stigma, writing: “We heard people mention a few similarities between COVID-19 and HIV as it relates to the stigma that both viruses carry, much of it centered around an initial lack of education, and fear of transmission.”

As Ellis said in her statement about the forthcoming study, “Newly-released data show how stigma, inadequate resources and lack of comprehensive public health messaging set back the fight against HIV during the COVID-19 pandemic and delayed response to the monkeypox virus (mpox) outbreak this year.”

GLAAD has published annual State of HIV Stigma Studies since 2020, a project that is funded by Gilead’s COMPASS initiative. The report can be found on the group’s End HIV Stigma page, with a downloadable PDF available here.

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AIDS and HIV

Biden outlines plan to renew fight against HIV/AIDS

Biden on the eve of World AIDS Day outline ways his administration will fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the U.S. & globally

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White House on World AIDS Day 2021 (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden detailed how his administration plans to improve the lives and health outcomes for people living with HIV/AIDS while strengthening treatment and prevention efforts at home and abroad in a statement published Wednesday on the eve of World AIDS Day.

Proposed healthcare reforms on the domestic agenda included improving access to lifesaving treatments, broadening the use of preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to reduce the rate of new infections, and strengthening efforts to reduce stigma associated with the disease. Biden noted his request for $850 million from Congress to fund these initiatives.  

Policy wise, he highlighted the administration’s pressure on the Armed Forces to sunset rules prohibiting deployments and commissions for servicemembers with HIV, and on state legislatures to repeal HIV criminalization statutes used to prosecute people for exposing others to HIV.

Internationally, the president said, “My administration has also pledged up to $6 billion to the Seventh Replenishment of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria — an initiative that has saved an estimated 50 million lives to date.” He called on other countries to match the pledge “so we can together deliver on the promise of health and well-being for millions around the world.”

“World AIDS Day presents an opportunity to renew America’s commitments to fighting the disease,” Biden said, while also acknowledging the tremendous progress in science, medicine, public health, and other arenas that have made the prospect of an end to AIDS and the worldwide transmission of HIV achievable. “At the same time, while these advancements have saved so many lives, they also exposed longstanding racial and gender-based disparities in access to prevention and care.”

“For the more than 38 million people around the world now living with HIV — especially members of the LGBTQI+ community, communities of color, women, and girls — a diagnosis is still life-altering,” Biden said. “We can do better.”

“As we today honor the 700,000 Americans and 40 million lives lost worldwide to AIDS-related illnesses over the years, we have new hope in our hearts,” the president’s statement concludes. “We finally have the scientific understanding, treatments, and tools to build an AIDS-free future where everyone — no matter who they are, where they come from, or whom they love — can get the care and respect they deserve.”

The full statement is available here.

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AIDS and HIV

FDA loosens restrictions on blood donation by gay & bisexual men

The policy change marks only the third time in which the FDA has loosened restrictions on blood donation by men who have sex with men

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FDA headquarters building Silver Spring, Maryland (Photo Credit: U.S. Government/GSA)

SILVER SPRING, Md. – The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is reportedly drafting guidelines to ease restrictions on blood donation by gay and bisexual men by removing the required one-year period of sexual abstinence for those in exclusively monogamous relationships.

New rules can be expected in coming months as the agency is now finalizing an individualized risk assessment questionnaire to determine eligibility, sources briefed on the matter told The Wall Street Journal.

According to an FDA spokesperson, potential donors who have had anal intercourse with a new sexual partner within the past three months would likely be asked to wait an additional three months before donating.

The FDA issued a blanket ban on blood donation from all men who have sex with men amid the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s. Since then, the agency has narrowed these restrictions only twice.

Gay and bisexual men who abstained from sex for a year or longer were permitted to donate blood with a 2015 policy change. Then, faced with severe blood shortages during the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA shortened the required abstinence period to three months.

GLAAD responded to Wednesday’s news of the FDA’s planned issuance of new guidelines with a statement that praised the move – while stressing that any restriction on blood and plasma donation by gay and bisexual men “is rooted in stigma, not science.”

“While today’s reports of an overdue move from the FDA is an important step, our community and leading medical experts will not stop advocating for the FDA to lift all restrictions against qualified LGBTQ blood donor candidates,” said GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis.

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AIDS and HIV

HBCUs receive millions to address HIV inequalities in South

“We believe that education and advocacy will enable us to identify new strategies that will make an impact on infection rates”

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Photo courtesy of Morehouse College/Facebook Chase Brathwaite; Class of' 24, a rising junior sociology major in gender & families pre-med

FOSTER CITY, Calif. – Two Southern historically Black colleges (HBCUs) will receive millions of dollars from biopharma giant Gilead Sciences Inc. to address the HIV epidemic in the region, which has become the epicenter of the virus in the U.S.

The Foster City, Calif.-based company will announce Wednesday $4.5 million for programs at Morehouse College in Atlanta and Xavier University of Louisiana in New Orleans to address structural barriers Black people face in getting HIV testing, treatment and ongoing care, officials told the Los Angeles Blade. Gilead is a leader in HIV treatments. 

The South has become the epicenter for HIV in the country, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It also “lags behind in providing quality HIV prevention services and care,” the agency said. 

Though cases have dropped in recent years, the region continues to have the country’s highest rate of new HIV diagnoses – sitting at 15.2 per 100,000 people in 2019, according to the CDC. Most cases occur in Black men who have sex with men

The Gilead donations will go toward addressing HIV inequities and closing gaps in care in Atlanta, New Orleans and Baton Rouge, La., officials said. Specifically, according to the announcement, the $4.5 million will help the HBCUs: 

  • Increase access and utilization of culturally competent healthcare to Black people impacted by the HIV epidemic. 
  • Gain insight into the disruption of the healthcare delivery system due to COVID-19 in the Black community and realigning HIV services in the current climate.
  • Provide training focused on culturally competent HIV care. 
  • Engage early with experienced clinicians practicing in Black communities in the three cities.

The Satcher Health Leadership Institute at Morehouse School of Medicine will receive $2.5 million and the Center for Minority Health and Health Disparities Research and Education at Xavier University of Louisiana’s College of Pharmacy will get $2 million over three, a Gilead official said. The company said there is a potential to continue funding and expanding the project based on the outcomes.

Rashad Burgess, vice president of advancing health and Black equity at Gilead, said the drugmaker landed on the two schools because the two “have been leading efforts ensuring positive health outcomes and advancing health equity for Black communities in the U.S. South, across the nation and around the globe.”

“Both schools also have a track record of results,” he said. 

Xavier, a Catholic institution, and Morehouse, a men’s school, have made recent strides with the LGBTQ community. Last year, Xavier hosted its first ever Pride week, which students heralded as a “big deal.” In 2019, Morehouse said it would open admissions to transgender men. (The school still bans anyone who identifies as a woman from enrolling.)

Jareese Stroud, project director of the Satcher Health Leadership Institute in the Morehouse School of Medicine, said strategic partnerships like Gilead’s “are critical to improving health outcomes among Black Americans.” 

In a statement to the Blade, Kathleen Kennedy, dean of the Xavier University of Louisiana College of Pharmacy, added: “We believe that education and advocacy will enable us to identify new strategies that will make an impact on infection rates and the overall health care of patients living with HIV and AIDS.”

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AIDS and HIV

HIV speeds up body’s aging within three years after initial infection

Living with HIV infection is associated with early onset of aging-related chronic conditions, sometimes described as accelerated aging

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An immune cell infected with HIV (Photo Credit: National Institute of Allergy & Infectious Diseases (NIAID))

LOS ANGELES – A study published by researchers from the division of hematology and oncology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA at the end of June revealed that HIV has an “early and substantial” impact on aging in infected people, accelerating biological changes in the body associated with normal aging within just two to three years of infection.

“Our work demonstrates that even in the early months and years of living with HIV, the virus has already set into motion an accelerated aging process at the DNA level,” said lead author Elizabeth Crabb Breen, a professor emerita at UCLA’s Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology and of psychiatry and biobehavioral sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. “This emphasizes the critical importance of early HIV diagnosis and an awareness of aging-related problems, as well as the value of preventing HIV infection in the first place.”

According to the results of the study published in the Cell Press open source journal iScience, the findings suggest that new HIV infection may rapidly cut nearly five years off an individual’s life span relative to an uninfected person.

The study’s authors noted that despite a significant increase in life expectancy because of treatment regimes now available to patients, there is mounting evidence that living long-term with Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and antiretroviral therapy, even when clinically well-controlled, is associated with an earlier than expected onset of chronic conditions such as heart and kidney disease, frailty, and neurocognitive difficulties.

The research team analyzed stored blood samples from 102 men collected six months or less before they became infected with HIV and again two to three years after infection. They compared these with matching samples from 102 non-infected men of the same age taken over the same time period.

The UCLA team said that this study is the first to match infected and non-infected people in this way. All the men were participants in the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study, an ongoing nationwide study initiated in 1984.

“Our access to rare, well-characterized samples allowed us to design this study in a way that leaves little doubt about the role of HIV in eliciting biological signatures of early aging,” said senior author Beth Jamieson, a professor in the division of hematology and oncology at the Geffen School. “Our long-term goal is to determine whether we can use any of these signatures to predict whether an individual is at increased risk for specific aging-related disease outcomes, thus exposing new targets for intervention therapeutics.”

The researchers noted some limitations to the study. It included only men, so results may not be applicable to women. In addition, the number of non-white participants was small, and the sample size was insufficient to take into consideration later effects of highly active antiretroviral treatment or to predict clinical outcomes.

There is still no consensus on what constitutes normal aging or how to define it, the researchers wrote.

The full study is available here: (Link)

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