Connect with us

AIDS and HIV

Raniyah Copeland, Black AIDS Institute’s new leader

Published

on

“Our house is on fire!” Phill Wilson preaches from the pulpit at Holy Name of Jesus Church in Los Angeles, Newsweek reported June 10, 2001. “AIDS is a fire raging in our community and it’s out of control!”

Wilson founded the Black AIDS Institute two years earlier, in May 1999, to shout “Our house is on fire!” from every pulpit, stage and rooftop he could find as whites with access to the new three-drug cocktail saw HIV/AIDS turned into a manageable disease while new infection rates in the Black community continued to skyrocket. Though not horse from shouting – and having made extraordinary progress in the almost 20 years serving as President and CEO of Black AIDS Institute (BAI)– Wilson announced his retirement in 2015.

After a concerted search, the BAI Board announced a new director on Dec. 1 during their annual Heroes in the Struggle gala: Raniyah Copeland, 34, a BAI executive staffer was picked out of 20 applicants. “I can’t imagine a better choice to lead the institute into the future. Raniyah is bold, brave, and brilliant,” Wilson said about his successor. “She brings a vigor and vision to the AIDS movement that, given the current political environment, is desperately needed.”

And Copeland does “bring it.”  Backed by degrees in African American Studies from the University of California/Berkeley and a Master of Public Health from Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science, Copeland started her dream job at BAI combining her two passions—Black people and health—in April of 2008, first as the Training and Capacity Building Coordinator and now as Director of Programs, until Jan. 1 when she assumes the CEO mantle.

“What’s really important to me is Black people,” Copeland tells the Los Angeles Blade when asked why a straight married mother of two would want the job. “It’s really quite horrible that we aren’t all really outraged by what HIV looks like in Black communities. HIV disproportionally impacts same-gender-loving people, trans folks, and Black cis women. I am a cis-hetero-woman—but we are one community and I think that for me, it sends an important message that we are in this together.

“The only way we are really going to end HIV is by our entire community coming together,” Copeland says. “It’s important that we all do our work to end HIV stigma and homophobia and transphobia—and that’s not the work of only some same-gender-loving people. It’s work we all have to do and I’m excited to lead that effort.”

It’s an excitement fueled by the lessons of history. “I was raised by what folks might call two radical Black parents. Growing up, I learned a lot about the history of Black people, the oppression of Black people,” she says. “A monumental book for me was ‘A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story’ by Elaine Brown, who was the highest ranking Black woman in the Black Panther Party. I remember thinking that we as Black people have so much to offer and we’ve been through so much, that it was disgraceful that Black people were disproportionately impacted by so many diseases, whether it was breast cancer, diabetes or HIV.”

In college, Copeland worked on reproductive justice issues but was startled writing a report on HIV in Black communities. “I thought how crazy it was that there was this huge HIV epidemic and the highest amount of attention that I ever remembered was around Magic Johnson,” she says. “But there were all these other communities within the Black community that were disproportionately impacted. It didn’t sit well. It didn’t seem right that HIV wasn’t getting the attention that it deserved—it didn’t seem like people cared very much.”

After college, she was thrilled finding a BAI job posting. “Who I am is being able to be uniquely, unapologetically Black. So finding an organization that focused on that was really exciting for me.” And doing HIV work across the country, “really showed me how the epidemic looks so different in different places.”

Copeland’s work is intersectional. “Mass incarceration is one of many themes that is really so important to ending HIV. We work with Black Lives Matters closely and make sure that HIV is part of the policy agenda and the work that they do,” she says. “For many people, particularly Black people, HIV is not the primary concern. Whether they’re going to get shot by police is a primary concern; whether there’s food on their table is a primary concern; whether they’re able to be in safe relationships free of intimate partner violence is a primary concern.”

So how make HIV important? “Respond to those issues,” she says. “To really respond to HIV, we have to discuss the issues that trans people have: how do we ensure that trans folks are supported? How do we ensure that trans folks have access to quality healthcare that’s culturally humble? And make sure they have opportunities to education and employment?”

Part of the answer is by partnering with different organizations. Which leads to: “how do we provide services that are culturally humble? How do we work with institutions to teach them how to better serve Black communities? These organizations are not HIV-specific but they are critically important working on issues such as employment or legal support or education,” Copeland says. “Those are the services and the relationship and the partnerships that we have to develop and further to ensure that the communities that we serve have the support and resources that are part of being human.”

Copeland is excited about BAI’s new expansion into direct services and partnering with different organizations, such as St. John’s Well Child & Family Center. “We end HIV,” she says, by creating access to quality healthcare that’s “culturally humble” and “by making sure that people have access to the human rights and the dignity that they deserve.”

Being culturally humble, Copeland explains, “is a step above being culturally competent. Cultural competency means you have an understanding of the norms and the culture that people come from. You understand the language that you should and shouldn’t use. You understand medical mistrust that is present in Black communities. You understand the need of trans folks and how they different from cis people. These are all things that you learn. Cultural competency – you understand the culture.

“Being culturally humble means that even though you know you have a competency, that each person is going to present to you differently,” Copeland says. “No culture is monolithic. So when people present to you, you have the competency but you let them guide and you let them determine the kind of services they want. It’s a different type of framework around how you position the relationship. And really understanding that the people we serve, the people that we engage with – that they lead us.”

But 57% of new HIV infections are among 13 to 29-year-old African American youths, according to the CDC,  and reaction to using PrEP,  Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis—using anti-HIV medications to keep HIV negative people from becoming infected – has been mixed.

“Pre-exposure prophylaxis (or PrEP) is when people at very high risk for HIV take HIV medicines daily to lower their chances of getting infected. PrEP can stop HIV from taking hold and spreading throughout your body. It is highly effective for preventing HIV if used as prescribed, but it is much less effective when not taken consistently,” the CDC reports.  “Daily PrEP reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by more than 90%. Among people who inject drugs, it reduces the risk by more than 70%. Your risk of getting HIV from sex can be even lower if you combine PrEP with condoms and other prevention methods.”

HIV reporter Emily Land writes: “Only seven percent of participants part of a PrEP demonstration project conducted in three major U.S. cities between 2012 and 2013 were black, and one study found that heightened concerns over potential side effects may pose one significant barrier to PrEP uptake among African American men,” with stigma throwing up another obstacle.

Photo of Raniyah Copeland and Phill Wilson by Lisa Allen 

“Medical mistrust is not just something that is being made up. Black people, people of color have long history of medical abuse by American institutions and individuals,” Oakland says. “The Tuskegee Experiment is the hallmarker for many Black communities—and many Black folks don’t actually know what Tuskegee was – they can’t tell you the details of what it was.

“But what it stands for is the many experiences that we all can tell you – medical mistrust and medical abuses that have happened: forced sterilization of women, forced hysterectomies, the subpar care that many same-gender-loving people receive today, the experience that trans people have on a regular basis and medical abuses they experience. And so there is a long legacy of it and it currently happens today with improper medical care,” Copeland says.

“When we talk about the tools to end the HIV epidemic, many of those tools are based in biomedical science. But for the work we do— you have to first affirm that absolutely—that Black people, that communities of color have been abused by medical systems for eons,” she says. “You can take it all the back during slave trade. And now today that we have many more institutions to ensure that doesn’t happen again, we have to take advantage of these tools that we know are so important and can save lives. PrEP is one of those and there is absolutely a huge amount of mistrust when it comes to PrEP and Black communities.”

Copeland may helping re-frame the approach to empowering people who are living with HIV to know about sexual health but the passion to put out the fire burns just as bright as when Wilson first issued the call.

“He’s been such a huge game-changer,” Copeland says of Wilson, “and I’m very, very honored to come after him.”

Continue Reading
Advertisement

AIDS and HIV

U.S. announces more funding for HIV/AIDS fight in Latin America

Jill Biden made announcement on Saturday in Panama

Published

on

Former Panamanian first lady Lorena Castillo and UNAIDS in 2017 launched a campaign to fight discrimination against Panamanians with HIV/AIDS. Panama will receive $12.2 million in new PEPFAR funding to further combat the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Latin America. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

PANAMA CITY — First lady Jill Biden on Saturday announced the U.S. will provide an additional $80.9 million to the fight against HIV/AIDS in Latin America.

Biden during a visit to Casa Hogar el Buen Samaritano, a shelter for people with HIV/AIDS in Panama City, said the State Department will earmark an additional $80.9 million for President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief-funded work in Latin America. A Panamanian activist with whom the Washington Blade spoke said LGBTQ+ people were among those who met with the first lady during her visit.

Pope Francis visited the shelter in 2019.

“I’m glad we have the opportunity to talk about how the United States and Panama can work together to combat HIV,” said the first lady.

Michael LaRosa, the first lady’s spokesperson, noted Panama will receive $12.2 million of the $80.9 million in PEPFAR funding.

“This funding, pending Congressional notification, will support expanded HIV/AIDS services and treatment,” said LaRosa.

UNAIDS statistics indicate an estimated 31,000 Panamanians were living with HIV/AIDS in 2020. The first lady’s office notes the country in 2020 had the highest number of “newly notificated cases of HIV/AIDS” in Central America.

The first lady visited Panama as part of a trip that included stops in Ecuador and Costa Rica.

The Summit of the Americas will take place next month in Los Angeles. The U.S. Agency for International Development and PEPFAR in April announced they delivered more than 18 million doses of antiretroviral drugs for Ukrainians with HIV/AIDS.

Continue Reading

AIDS and HIV

New highly-infectious variant of HIV discovered by Dutch scientists

This new variant of HIV-1 damaged the immune system twice as fast, “placing individuals at risk of developing AIDS much more rapidly”

Published

on

The human immunodeficiency virus in the bloodstream (Photo Credit: NIH/CDC)

CAMBRIDGE, UK – A study published this week by Science (journal) detailed an alarming discovery by researchers, clinicians and epidemiologists in the Netherlands of a new, highly-infectious mutated variant strain of the human immunodeficiency virus, (HIV), circulating in the country.

The BEEHIVE project – which stands for “bridging the epidemiology and evolution of HIV in Europe and Uganda,” detailed the findings which showed that a distinct subtype-B viral variant of HIV-1 damaged the immune system twice as fast, “placing individuals at risk of developing AIDS much more rapidly”, and those with this variant were at a higher risk of transmitting the virus to others.

The variant, known as the “VB variant”, causes CD4 cell decline to occur twice as fast in infected individuals compared with other viral variants. This is a clinical hallmark, or “signature” of the extent of damage caused by the HIV virus. In addition, those infected with the VB variant also demonstrated an increased risk of transmitting the virus to others, the data suggests.

Individuals infected with the new “VB variant” (for virulent subtype B) showed significant differences before antiretroviral treatment compared with individuals infected with other HIV variants:

  • Individuals with the VB variant had a viral load (the level of the virus in the blood) between 3.5 and 5.5 times higher.
  • In addition, the rate of CD4 cell decline (the hallmark of immune system damage by HIV) occurred twice as fast in individuals with the VB variant, placing them at risk of developing AIDS much more rapidly.
  • Individuals with the VB variant also showed an increased risk of transmitting the virus to others.

The project’s researchers, clinicians and epidemiologists did determine however, that those infected with the VB variant had “similar immune system recovery and survival to individuals with other HIV variants.”

However, the researchers stress that because the VB variant causes a more rapid decline in immune system strength, this makes it critical that individuals are diagnosed early and start treatment as soon as possible.

BEEHIVE project‘s lead author Dr Chris Wymant, from the University of Oxford’s Big Data Institute and Nuffield Department of Medicine, said: “Before this study, the genetics of the HIV virus were known to be relevant for virulence, implying that the evolution of a new variant could change its impact on health. Discovery of the VB variant demonstrated this, providing a rare example of the risk posed by viral virulence evolution.”

“Our findings emphasize the importance of World Health Organization guidance that individuals at risk of acquiring HIV have access to regular testing to allow early diagnosis, followed by immediate treatment. This limits the amount of time HIV can damage an individual’s immune system and jeopardise their health. It also ensures that HIV is suppressed as quickly as possible, which prevents transmission to other individuals,” Senior author Professor Christophe Fraser from the University of Oxford’s Big Data Institute and Nuffield Department of Medicine, added.

In its Global HIV & AIDS statistics — Fact sheet, the UNAIDS Secretariat detailed the statistical data: 

GLOBAL HIV STATISTICS

  • 28.2 million people were accessing antiretroviral therapy as of 30 June 2021.
  • 37.7 million [30.2 million–45.1 million] people globally were living with HIV in 2020.
  • 1.5 million [1.0 million–2.0 million] people became newly infected with HIV in 2020.
  • 680 000 [480 000–1.0 million] people died from AIDS-related illnesses in 2020. 
  • 79.3 million [55.9 million–110 million] people have become infected with HIV since the start of the epidemic.
  • 36.3 million [27.2 million–47.8 million] people have died from AIDS-related illnesses since the start of the epidemic.

People living with HIV                                                                          

  • In 2020, there were 37.7 million [30.2 million–45.1 million] people living with HIV.
    • 36.0 million [28.9 million–43.2 million] adults.
    • 1.7 million [1.2 million–2.2 million] children (0–14 years).
    • 53% of all people living with HIV were women and girls.
  • 84% [67– >98%] of all people living with HIV knew their HIV status in 2020.
  • About 6.1 million [4.9 million–7.3 million] people did not know that they were living with HIV in 2020.

People living with HIV accessing antiretroviral therapy

  • As of 30 June 2021, 28.2 million people were accessing antiretroviral therapy, up from 7.8 million [6.9 million–7.9 million] in 2010.
  • In 2020, 73% [56–88%] of all people living with HIV were accessing treatment.
    • 74% [57–90%] of adults aged 15 years and older living with HIV had access to treatment, as did 54% [37–69%] of children aged 0–14 years.
    • 79% [61–95%] of female adults aged 15 years and older had access to treatment; however, just 68% [52–83%] of male adults aged 15 years and older had access.
  • 85% [63– >98%] of pregnant women living with HIV had access to antiretroviral medicines to prevent transmission of HIV to their child in 2020.

New HIV infections

  • New HIV infections have been reduced by 52% since the peak in 1997.
    • In 2020, around 1.5 million [1.0 million–2.0 million] people were newly infected with HIV, compared to 3.0 million [2.1 million–4.2 million] people in 1997.
    • Women and girls accounted for 50% of all new infections in 2020.
  • Since 2010, new HIV infections have declined by 31%, from 2.1 million [1.5 million–2.9 million] to 1.5 million [1.0 million–2.0 million] in 2020.
    • Since 2010, new HIV infections among children have declined by 53%, from 320 000 [210 000–510 000] in 2010 to 150 000 [100 000–240 000] in 2020.

AIDS-related deaths

  • AIDS-related deaths have been reduced by 64% since the peak in 2004 and by 47% since 2010.
    • In 2020, around 680 000 [480 000–1 million] people died from AIDS-related illnesses worldwide, compared to 1.9 million [1.3 million–2.7 million] people in 2004 and 1.3 million [910 000–1.9 million] people in 2010.
  • AIDS-related mortality has declined by 53% among women and girls and by 41% among men and boys since 2010.
Continue Reading

AIDS and HIV

‘Promising’ HIV vaccine study conducted at George Washington University

“We are tremendously excited to be advancing this new direction in HIV vaccine design with Moderna’s mRNA platform”

Published

on

Courtesy of the George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences

WASHINGTON – D.C.’s George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences is one of four sites across the country in which a preliminary component of an experimental HIV vaccine is being given to volunteer participants in a study aimed at reversing years of failed attempts to develop an effective HIV vaccine by pursuing what study sponsors say is a new, promising approach.

The study, which involves 56 healthy, HIV-negative volunteer participants, is being conducted by the nonprofit scientific research organization known as IAVI and the biotechnology company Moderna, which developed one of the coronavirus vaccines now being used throughout the world.

In a Jan. 27 joint statement, IAVI and Moderna said their study is part of a Phase 1 trial designed to test newly developed experimental HIV vaccine antigens to determine if they will lead to the development of an effective HIV vaccine.  

According to scientific literature, antigens are substances such as bacteria, viruses, and chemicals that induce the body to release antibodies that fight off infections. The statement by IAVI and Moderna says a vaccine technology developed by Moderna to use another component of the human body called messenger RNA or mRNA to strengthen a potential vaccine’s ability to fight off infection by HIV is also a part of this vaccine study.

“We are tremendously excited to be advancing this new direction in HIV vaccine design with Moderna’s mRNA platform,” Mark Feinberg, president and CEO of IAVI, says in the statement. “The search for an HIV vaccine has been long and challenging and having new tools in terms of immunogens and platforms could be the key to making rapid progress toward an urgently needed, effective HIV vaccine,” he says in the statement.

The statement says that scientific teams at IAVI and the biotechnology firm Scripps Research helped to develop the HIV vaccine antigens being tested in the trials taking place at the GW School of Medicine and Health Sciences and at locations in Atlanta, Ga., Seattle, Wash., and San Antonio, Tex.

It says the trial involving the 56 volunteer participants — who are divided among the four sites — began on Jan. 27 and is being funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Among those calling the IAVI-Moderna trial an important step in HIV vaccine development is Carl Dieffenbach, director of the Division of AIDS at the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), which is part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

“This is a variation of a theme,” Dieffenbach told the Washington Blade. “IAVI in collaboration with NIH did a version of this study already with a protein form of this immunogen,” Dieffenbach said. He said that study worked out well and was published in a scientific journal.

“What’s unique about this latest study is they’re using RNA to deliver the vaccine rather than a protein,” said Dieffenbach. “So, this is an important step for us in the vaccine field, that they can now compare the protein to the RNA.”

Dieffenbach said the IAVI-Moderna trial is taking place after two other recently completed HIV vaccine studies involving human trials that NIAID was involved in resulted in findings that the two experimental HIV vaccines were ineffective. He said a third HIV vaccine study NIAID is involved in that is taking place in the U.S. and South America is expected to be completed in about a year.

The ongoing study in the Americas involves men who have sex with men and transgender individuals as those participating in that vaccine trial, he said.

Dieffenbach said in addition to the vaccine studies, NIAID is monitoring at least two studies of medication aimed at curing HIV. One of the studies was conducted by HIV researcher Dr. Timothy Schacker, who serves as Vice Dean for research at the University of Minnesota Medical School.

Schacker arranged for human trials of people who are HIV positive and taking standard anti-retroviral HIV medication to be given an experimental HIV cure medication developed by the biotechnology company ImmunityBio called Anktiva, according to a Jan. 31 statement released by ImmunityBio.

The statement says the trials showed promising results in the ability of Anktiva to induce the immune system of HIV-positive patients under standard HIV treatment who participated in the study to “kill” the latent or “hidden” HIV in their body that would otherwise reactivate and cause illness if they stopped taking HIV medication.

The goal of the development of Anktiva is to “rid the body of the virus for good and eliminate the need for antiretroviral therapy,” the company’s statement says.

Dieffenbach said his office was also monitoring an HIV cure study being conducted by the Rockville, Md., based genetic engineering company called American Gene Technologies. The company is conducting a human trial for a therapeutic treatment it has developed that’s intended to enable the immune system of HIV-positive people to permanently eliminate HIV from their bodies. The company has said it was hopeful that early results of the effectiveness of the treatment would become available this year.

Continue Reading
Advertisement
Advertisement

Follow Us @LosAngelesBlade

Sign Up for Blade eBlasts

Popular