The family of murdered fashion designer Gianni Versace is not happy with gay producer Ryan Murphy’s latest endeavor, “The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story,” a 9-episode anthology that premiers Wednesday, Jan. 17 on FX. In particular, they are angry that the series suggests Versace was HIV-positive when he was murdered by gay hustler Andrew Cunanan on the steps of his South Miami Beach mansion on July 15, 1997.
The family says that they had no involvement with the series and consider it a “work of fiction,” adding that Maureen Orth’s 452-page book upon which the series is based (“Vulgar Favors: Andrew Cunanan, Gianni Versace, and the Largest Failed Manhunt in U.S. History”) ”is full of gossip and speculation” and “second-hand hearsay that is full of contradictions.”
One example: “Orth makes assertions about Gianni Versace’s medical condition based on a person who claims he reviewed a post-mortem test result, but she admits it would have been illegal for the person to have reviewed the report in the first place (if it existed at all),” the family says.
“In making her lurid claims, she ignores contrary information provided by members of Mr. Versace’s family, who lived and worked closely with him and were in the best position to know the facts of his life.”
Orth says she conducted 400 interviews, including with Miami Detective Paul Scrimshaw who told the Vanity Fair contributor that he reviewed Versace’s autopsy results. “I had to know whether Gianni Versace was HIV-positive or not, and I was able to find out from autopsy results that he had tested positive for HIV,” Scrimshaw told Orth.
Orth writes that Versace kept his HIV status secret to not endanger a proposed public offering of stock in his fashion empire, estimated at $1.4 billion. Versace signed an agreement with Morgan Stanley to manage the initial offering in the United States on July 10, 1997. He was murdered five days later. “The consequences to his business would be incalculable. Certainly the public offering would be jeopardized,” she writes.
“The Versace family has said it’s a work of fiction — it is not a work of fiction,” Murphy says, adding that the book “has been discussed and dissected and vetted for close to 20 years.” Orth “is an impeccable reporter and we stand by her reporting. Our show is based on her reporting so, in that way, it is not a work of fiction, it’s a work of non-fiction obviously with docudrama elements. We’re not making a documentary.”
But both the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times book reviewers reported that Orth was wrong about Versace’s HIV status.
In an April 11, 1999 review for the New York Times, then-Washington correspondent Frank Bruni writes that “the breadth and thoroughness of Orth’s research are often staggering,” but “Orth often loses her footing.”
“When Cunanan was found on a houseboat there, dead from a gunshot to his head, just eight days after Versace’s murder, the case was pretty much closed. An autopsy showed that Cunanan had not contracted H.I.V., disproving some speculation about what triggered his spree,” Bruni writes.
In her March 24, 1999 column, the L.A. Times senior fashion writer Valli Herman-Cohen notes that Orth is a fourth-generation Californian married to ‘Meet the Press’ moderator Tim Russert. “Her book claims that Versace was HIV positive, which the Versace family has repeatedly denied. During the manhunt, police were testing a theory that Cunanan killed Versace in revenge for transmitting AIDS to him….But as it turned out, according to the medical examiner, Cunanan was HIV negative.
Apparently rumors had circulated in South Beach that Versace had AIDS when he appeared gaunt, weak and emaciated in 1995. A Versace associate told Orth that by the end of that year, the designer “could barely walk half a block.” But his health improved six months before his murder, Orth writes, because he was taking the miracle new AIDS medication.
“My time with Gianni which was well over a year,” Michael Anketell tells the Los Angeles Blade. Anketell founded the California Fashion Industry Friends of People Living with AIDS benefit that honored Versace in 1991 at the Century Plaza Hotel. “I saw him with great stamina when in the throws of his work, but when I visited him in Milano he seemed quite tired and frail. Just my observation. We had great talks about LA and my coming of age in La La Land. He was fascinated by the famous people I had come to know and how serendipitous life can be.”
Anketell and a steering committee launched the fashion show fundraisers in 1987 to benefit AIDS Project Los Angeles. Even though designer Perry Ellis had died of AIDS, it was hard to get people to turn out. With a few exceptions such as Elizabeth Taylor and Bette Midler, “Hollywood was as squeamish about the whole issue of AIDS as was the rest of the country,” Anketell writes in his book “Heavenly Bodies: Remembering Hollywood and Fashion’s Favorite AIDS Benefit.” “Finally, because fashion and entertainment are so integrally part of people’s lives, it can also be easy to forget that, first and foremost, they are industries and, like businesses, do not want to be associated with any issue that might offend any segment of their potential customer base.”
The Versace show was the fifth benefit for APLA and by 1991, Hollywood had stepped up. But this was the “first full blown retrospective of his career,” Anketell says. “It was a big deal. People flew in from all over the world” to honor the designer who dressed and was close friends with Princess Diana, Elton John, Cher, George Michael and created that famous red jacket Michael Jackson wore in “Thriller.”
Since this was to benefit people with HIV/AIDS, the designers were responsible for 50% of the budget and the whole look of the show. Versace’s team designed the entire ballroom, flying in a backdrop from the La Scala opera house that looked like an Italian garden, using Versace fabric for tablecloths and lampshades. Elizabeth Taylor dropped by during rehearsals and walked out with an armful of clothes, Anketell says.
“Gianni’s brother Santo told me not to worry about money. They would pay for everything,” he says. That included flying in the Fab Five top supermodels—Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, Christy Turlington, Linda Evangelista, and Claudia Schiffer—all of whom donated their time.
There were hitches, of course. When it was announced that Versace would be the honoree, Cher’s manager called Anketell to say she wanted to be a presenter. However Cher had stiffed Anketell in 1989 in the show honoring Bob Mackie. Though there was a whole segment devoted to the singer’s Mackie outfits, Cher failed to show up until the middle of the benefit when she came in a motorcycle jacket and torn jeans to underscore a tiff.
Anketell nervously agreed to have Cher present Versace at the tribute. “We were getting ready for her to go out and she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and she thought she looked fat. She refused to go out,” he recalls.
Anketell quickly resorted to Plan B, made his way through his bodyguards to get to Sylvester Stallone and asked him to introduce his close friend Versace. But by the time they got backstage, Cher changed her mind and decided to go on after all. “They got into a tiff, she pushed him and he fell over. He isn’t a tall man and he wore lifts,” Anketell says. But he got up, brushed himself off, cast aside the remarks prepared for Cher and winged it.
“Gianni was like a brother to him—this Italian brotherhood,” says Anketell. “To hear Stallone talk from his heart—he always plays the macho man and here he was at an AIDS benefit introducing one of his closest friends. It was quite moving.”
“Gianni could never understand why we chose him to be honored instead of Armani,” says Anketell. “It was because of his grace and how open he was about being gay.”
Anketell says he was devastated to hear about Versace’s murder. “I can’t explain how much grief I felt. I worked with Gianni for over a year on the show. I was a guest in his house,” says Anketell, who is now battling cancer. “And when someone you know dies so unexpectedly—this unpreparedness washes over you. I couldn’t talk for a couple of days. It was just such a shock.”
“Young people don’t understand what it was like for us during those days” Anketell says. He hopes Ryan Murphy’s series will get people interested in the Gianni Versace he knew.
Patti LaBelle, Gladys Knight dazzle World AIDS Day concert
“As millions remain affected by HIV/AIDS, World AIDS Day provides an opportunity to honor those we’ve lost and those living with HIV/AIDS”
WASHINGTON – The AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) hosted its 2022 World AIDS Day Concert on Wednesday, Nov. 30, in the concert hall of The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in the nation’s capital.
Renowned multi-Grammy Award-winning vocalists Patti LaBelle and Gladys Knight delivered show-stopping performances to the packed crowd, which included supporters, dignitaries such as: Harold Phillips, Director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy; White House Senior Advisor for Public Engagement, Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee, and New Orleans Mayor, Mayor LaToya Cantrell, and more, in a night of hope and celebration.
AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), is the world’s largest HIV/AIDS care provider, currently operating in 45 countries. The concert is held every year to commemorate World AIDS Day, observed internationally each year on Dec. 1. This year also marked the global organization’s 35th anniversary.
At the event, longtime humanitarian and AIDS advocate, Princess Diana was honored, posthumously, with AHF’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Under its “Keep the Promise!” banner, AHF also acknowledged progress made in the global fight against HIV and AIDS and continues to raise awareness about “The Other Pandemic” as a reminder of the significant work still to be done on HIV/AIDS, as well as remembering the lives that have been lost over the years.
Michael Weinstein, President of AHF, said, “As millions remain affected by HIV/AIDS around the globe, World AIDS Day annually provides an opportunity to honor those we’ve lost and those living with HIV/AIDS today, as well as reminding leaders and the community of the work that still remains to address this epidemic. From providing compassionate AIDS hospice care in those darkest early days to growing to become the largest global AIDS organization today, now providing lifesaving care and treatment to more than 1.7 million people around the globe, we also celebrate the tireless work of all those who help make today’s AHF possible: our staff, Board, affiliate organizations and affinity groups, friends, family and elected officials and community partners across the globe, but most of all, our clients and patients—with our annual 2022 World AIDS Day event. It was a momentous night to host our World AIDS Day concert at The Kennedy Center for the first time, and welcome back the legendary Patti LaBelle, and have another great American icon, Gladys Knight join us, while also being able to honor the legacy and humanitarian work of the late Princess Diana.”
Cleve Jones, activist & founder of AIDS Memorial Quilt honored
National AIDS Memorial hosted observances at the 10-acre Memorial Grove and displaying Quilt in nearly 100 communities throughout the U.S.
SAN FRANCISCO – The National AIDS Memorial marked World AIDS Day with a national observance at the 10-acre National AIDS Memorial Grove in San Francisco, honoring AIDS activist and founder of the AIDS Memorial Quilt Cleve Jones with its Lifetime of Commitment Award.
The two days of events brought together leaders on the front lines of the epidemic for powerful conversations and events focused on “Changing the Pattern for a Future without AIDS,” referencing a major initiative of the Memorial that is bringing the Quilt to the South to address the growing crisis of rising HIV rates amount communities of color and marginalized populations.
Jones, who founded the Quilt thirty-five years ago, was recognized for his visionary leadership, activism, and powerful voice in the fight for health and social justice. He remains an inspirational force for change and action today, standing up without hesitation and using his voice for those who are often overshadowed and not heard.
U.S. House Speaker, Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-Cailf.) praised Jones in a special video tribute, saying, “Cleve, you are a force of nature – unshakable in the face of adversity, overflowing with a passion for serving others.”
“When the AIDS crisis tightened its grip on San Francisco – when pain and despair grew rampant – you kept hope alive,” she continued. “You were a shining light in the dark, building community out of grief and spurring action out of anguish. From the halls of power to union halls and picket lines, you have never relented in your mission: empowering the oppressed, tearing down injustice and honoring the dignity and beauty of every person.”
Presenting the award to Jones was former San Francisco mayor and mentor Art Agnos to an audience of more than 600 people from the community who gathered on the eve of World AIDS Day for a gala to support the Memorial’s programs.
“I’m honored to receive this award, but more importantly I’m so pleased that the Quilt now has a permanent home with the National AIDS Memorial and that it is continuing its mission of activism and justice. One thing I’ve learned is that through hope one finds courage and through courage we find love. Love is at the core of what we do and that is what this Quilt represents,” Jones told the audience gathered.
The National AIDS Memorial worked with local partners from across the country to display hundreds of Quilt sections featuring more than 3,500 individual panels in nearly 100 communities on World AIDS Day.
The largest Quilt display ever in Alabama is taking place in Montgomery and surrounding areas as part of the memorial’s Change the Pattern initiative. The program, funded through a $2.4 million grant from Gilead Sciences, is organizing quilting workshops, displays and educational programming with Southern AIDS Coalition throughout the Southern U.S.
“On this World AIDS Day, it is inspiring to know that thousands of Quilt panels are on display in communities across the country, touching hearts and minds through the stories represented in the fabric,” said Gilead Sciences Chairman and CEO Daniel O’Day. “The Quilt’s purpose remains as strong and important today, as it was thirty-five years ago, when the vision of Cleve Jones sparked a powerful movement to advance health and social justice.”
The National AIDS Memorial’s World AIDS Day Observance panelists highlighted the importance of the work being done around the country, the interconnectivity of issues to reach zero, and the importance of education and outreach to at-risk populations during three powerful conversations available for viewing online on the memorial’s website and include: Reflections with Cleve Jones and 35 years of the Quilt; The State of the Epidemic Today with Leaders on the Frontlines; and Young Leaders Making an Impact.
“As our community comes together this World AIDS Day, it’s hard not to look around and see who’s missing – our friends, lovers, and family we’ve lost over four decades of this horrific, cruel disease,” said National AIDS Memorial CEO John Cunningham. “It always brings tears, and we carry so many emotions, particularly as we think of what could have been. But for me, as a man living with HIV/AIDS, I shift to a brighter space, choosing to look around me, thinking about so many of us still here, living and thriving. Survivors, who have so much to be thankful for, but also a heavy burden to share our own stories and journey, so history never repeats itself.”
He continued, “Today, people are still dying and there should have been a cure long ago. We are angry because bigotry, hate, and stigma persist today in society. And we carry shame, because communities of color and marginalized populations continue to be disproportionately impacted by HIV and discrimination, and it shouldn’t be this way. It’s time to change the pattern.”
Translatinx network helps a resilient community ‘Live Its Truth’
“We’re trying to push ourselves to the next level through community empowerment and leadership development”
NEW YORK – When Cristina Herrera was 15 years old, she traveled alone from Southern California to the Bronx in pursuit of new life experiences. A native of El Salvador, Cristina thought as a teenager that she was different, but she was unsure about which terminology fully captured her identity.
“I knew that I wasn’t gay,” explains Cristina. “But I couldn’t put into words as to who I was.”
It was only through connecting with the trans Latinx community in New York that Cristina found herself – and came out as transgender.
When Cristina began her gender transition in the mid-1980s, she says there were barely any employment opportunities for a transgender person. To survive, many immigrant trans women in Cristina’s circle engaged in sex work and became more susceptible to contracting HIV. Policing and arrests of sex workers also put their immigration statuses in peril, and stigma exposed them to violence. It was during this time that Cristina became set on improving the lives of trans Latinx people.
“My community was already informally supporting one another,” she says. “But I wanted to make sure that other people would never have to go through some of the difficult issues I experienced.”
Determined to fulfill this promise, Cristina put herself through college and landed a job at a nonprofit supporting the LGBTQ+ community. She absorbed as much as she could at the organization, but she started to want a bigger influence on how to serve the community that helped find her identity.
“In 2005, I began dreaming about starting a trans-led, immigrant-led organization,” she says. “My dream came true two years later when I started the nonprofit.”
Today, as the founder and CEO of the advocacy nonprofit Translatinx Network, she serves trans Latinx people in New York City and beyond. The organization, which for the past three years has been a Gilead TRANScend Community Impact Fund grantee, connects people to legal aid, HIV prevention and support groups, and immigration assistance.
In the years since its creation, Cristina and her colleagues have led the charge in providing support and connections for trans Latinx people as they build their communities in the United States.
“Many people in our community went from being in the shadows to becoming documented and getting their green cards or work permits,” she says. “We were showing our community that we don’t have to be stuck – that there’s more to life.”
Cristina is now looking for ways to replicate the success of the organization by gathering information and its outcomes and continuing to expand its services. “We want to stay on the front lines and keep our community healthy and protected,” she says. “We’re trying to push ourselves to the next level through community empowerment and leadership development.”
And Cristina is proud that through her organization’s success, she’s able to serve a population that has historically been left out or forgotten.
“I love any opportunity where I can be there for others,” she says. “I want all of us to be able to live our truth while at the same time fulfill our life goals.”
Ending HIV-related stigma in the Southern U. S.: Gina’s story
“Stigma is an onion with many layers,” Gina says. “We can really do this – we really can, but we have to address the layers that drive HIV”
BIRMINGHAM, Al. – Gina Brown has been living with HIV for 27 years and introduces herself as a social worker by training, but an activist by birth. As the Director of Strategic Partnerships and Community Engagement at the Southern AIDS Coalition, she’s working to fight against challenges that she has personally experienced such as homelessness, addiction and abuse, as well as stigma, racism, sexism and ageism.
“Everything that you could think of when it comes to HIV, I’ve experienced,” she says. “When I’m sitting at the table, I’m not just talking with an employee hat on. I’m talking from a community standpoint as a person on the same journey.”
Stigma can be a significant barrier to receiving HIV care or medical treatment. A 2021 survey by GLAAD and Gilead shows that the U.S. South not only has the highest rates of HIV diagnosis, but it’s also a region that is generally uncomfortable with HIV. Positive test results, in turn, are too often accompanied by secrecy and isolation.
“Stigma kills. I know that sounds like a cliché, but it’s the truth,” Gina says. “It keeps people out of care. It keeps people from taking their medication. It keeps people from disclosing their status. It keeps people from being happy.”
Stigma impacts people everywhere with HIV, but Gina believes in the Southern United States it’s more than just external stigma. “We internalize what people say and think about us. We get caught up in it and actually think those things about ourselves too.”
The Southern AIDS Coalition, a Gilead grantee, focuses on stigma reduction and culturally appropriate care. Education and public health advocacy are core to the organization’s goals of preventing new transmissions and building a better life for people living with HIV.
Using deliberate language to discuss HIV is one important tool the coalition uses to help dismantle stigma, Gina says.
“You go in the room, and you might have somebody who will stand up and say, ‘I’m HIV.’ And I say, ‘No, you’re living with HIV.’ That’s the first thing, getting people to understand that we are living, we’re not dying, we’re not sick, we’re not all of those things,” she says.
Power of Community: Sharing HIV Experiences
Gina also helps facilitate a program called “Out of the Shadows,” with the Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies. The group works to provides a safe space for women in the New Orleans community to share their HIV experiences, improve access to services and overcome feelings of isolation. She says it was her own experience with the community that was critical to helping her regain her confidence after being diagnosed.
“What you see now is not always who I was in this fight. It was people who truly carried me and gave me tools to empower myself. People saw things in me that I never saw in myself,” she says.
Gina now wants to serve as that type of person for those she works with, and she always strives to meet them where they are in their journeys. “If you need to crawl, I will crawl with you. When you start walking, I will walk with you.”
But Gina says with a laugh, “When you start running, you’re on your own because I’m too old to run. I’ll do everything else with you, but I’m not running.”
Ending the HIV Epidemic
Efforts by the Southern AIDS Coalition and other organizations to reduce stigma and discrimination have been highlighted by the United Nations as critical to ending the epidemic. Gina looks with optimism toward the end of the epidemic and the UNAIDS goal to get every community and country on track to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.
“Stigma is an onion with many layers,” Gina says. “We can really do this – we really can, but we have to address the layers that drive 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
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/.
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.
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”
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.”
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
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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