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AIDS and HIV

LA LGBT Center is open, shares inspiring story from Wuhan, China

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                                Triangle Square in Hollywood

(UPDATE 3/15) Perhaps it was the confluence of news that The Center in New York City was closing on Friday, March 13 due to the coronavirus, coupled with the announcement by the Los Angeles LGBT Center that it was cancelling its April 18 premier food and wine event, Simply diVine, but somehow the idea wafted up from nowhere that the LA LGBT Center was closing.

Both California Gov. Newsom and LA County have declared states of emergencies following the outbreak of the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic. But the Hollywood-based Center, with more than 42,000 visits a month and 700 employees providing free and low-cost services from cradle to old age, is too vital to shut down.

“We are making preparations for worse case scenarios but no, we simply could not take this kind of action,” Los Angeles LGBT Center Chief of Staff Darrel Cummings tells the Los Angeles Blade. “After all, people live here and get vital services from us on a daily basis.  People need food, housing, healthcare, medications and so many other services so closing entirely is out of the question.

“We may find alternative methods of providing some or many of our services and we can implement those changes as the circumstances warrant,” says Cummings. “We have cancelled or postponed events like Simply diVine and our production of “HAIR” but, of course, these are not essential services so they can be cancelled without causing harm or hardship.”

The annual Simply diVine event, this year scheduled for April 18 at Hollywood Forever, draws more than a thousand guests – but public health guidelines ban all gatherings of over 250 people.

“As this pandemic evolves, we will continue to evaluate and navigate what protocols are needed to ensure the well-being of our clients and community based on state and local public health recommendations,” says Cummings, noting – as have other non-profits – that the events bring in revenue that supports programs for which a demand remains.

“We have a responsibility to ensure that our services continue, particularly at a time when the need is so great,” he says. “As many of our supporters who have been part of Simply diVine through the years know, the care and well-being of our community is at the forefront of the Center’s work and is really the driving force behind the event.”

All events are now under scrutiny, driven by science, community response and Newsom’s public health directive, Cummings says.

Los Angeles LGBT Center Chief of Staff Darrel Cummings at opening of Anita May Rosenstein Campus in April 2019 (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

And, adds the Chief of Staff at the world’s largest LGBT-specific organization, the Center has a commitment to LGBTQ seniors living at Triangle Square and the 100 youth without a home at their Anita May Rosenstein campus – both at risk for the coronavirus.

“For us, the primary client concerns are 1) those who are healthcare patients and who come to our McDonald/Wright building for a variety of healthcare services, 2) our senior services which include residents of Triangle Square but also the many others who come to the Campus for programs, meals, etc. and 3) our programs for youth that includes our drop in center services and housing through our emergency overnight beds and transitional living program,” Cummings says.

“The good news is that we now have tests on site and are prepared to administer those both at our clinic site but also off site at our other facilities.  We have been providing, almost on a daily basis, the most up to date information to our staff and clients about the preventative measures they can take to protect themselves and others,” he says. “We have been following the guidelines for congregate care and living issued by the department of public health and the CDC and have plans in place for appropriately reacting to any identified case that we may identify in the clinic or at our other facilities, especially those in our seniors and youth programs.  We are prepared, as best we can be, to provide testing and any needed isolation.”

(UPDATE from Cummings: “We have been getting lots of calls from the community asking for testing. While we have testing kits on site, the lab has limited capacity so we are unable to provide testing generally at this point. Maybe that will change as capacity, etc. increases, but at the moment, this is the situation and I don’t want to mislead people.”) 

Center administrators are encouraging people (staff and clients) who are exhibiting symptoms, “not to come to our services and to call us or their medical provider for counsel,” says Cummings. “Obviously, we have masks and hand sanitizers throughout although these things can be in short supply so we have lots on back-order.

“We have established a COVID-19 management team that is meeting and talking on a very regular basis so we can act on or react to developments as they happen and are just assuming that the numbers of those identified with the virus will grow dramatically as more and more are tested.”

Darrel Cummings has a long history of healthcare activism; he’s pictured here, on the right, with LA Gay & Lesbian Center Executive Director Lorri Jean giving a tour to Clinton’s first AIDS Czar Kristin Gebbie in 1993. Diane Abbitt and Dr. Scott Hitt in the back. (Photo by Karen Ocamb)

Amidst the concern and developing of precaution plans, Cummings also quietly advised LGBTQ leaders in Wuhan, China, the site of the origin of the coronavirus, extending the impact of one of the Center’s least known but apparently highly impactful programs. Cummings says:

“The leader of the Wuhan LGBT Center is a graduate of the LA Center’s Chinese Emerging Leaders Program  and has done remarkable work, along with a team of 7 staff and many volunteers in Wuhan China, Hubei Province. When the novel coronavirus hit that City and province of 56 million people, activities of every kind halted and people were confined to their homes with only limited ability to leave for groceries.  Virtually all transportation was halted and no one was allowed to enter or exit the area.  All of this remains true today.

Unfortunately, the entire staff of the Wuhan Center was to arrive in LA in February to participate in a special organizational development program we had created but were obviously unable to leave China.  Instead, and as a result of the relationships they have developed with the local CDC and within the community, they were able to gain permission from health authorities to help make sure that people living with HIV/AIDS who could not leave their homes were able to get their HIV medications.

The Wuhan Center staff and approved volunteers travel each day to the hospital that treats those with HIV and that also now treats people with coronavirus to meet with doctors, get prescriptions written, pick up pharmaceuticals, and mail or deliver them to now 1,500 people.

 

Throughout this process the Wuhan Center consulted with us and identified barriers to this work as they arose.  The most recent being with the police who were increasingly stopping the staff and volunteers from traveling or entering apartment buildings since they had not been credentialed by police authorities to be moving about publicly.  With a kind of determination that is familiar to many of us, they were able to finally win approval by the police to continue their work.

 

In the epicenter of what is now a global pandemic that is provoking cancellations and closings of all kinds here in the United States, the Wuhan Center did not close.  They shifted.  They recognized a serious community need and they doggedly worked to make sure that need was met.

This is what we, as an LGBT community, have always done.  It is why the LA Center will not close.  Our friends in Wuhan who have looked to us for inspiration and learning are now inspiring, teaching, and reminding us of who we are and the value of being out and open.”

 

Cummings sent an addendum:

Haojie, our program grad and ED of the Wuhan Center, posted this just now on Facebook.  Remarkable.

 

Huang Haojie

9 hrs ·

截至2018年10月底,湖北省报告现存活艾滋病病毒感染者和病人19166例,受新冠肺炎疫情影响,湖北省内全部城市均采取了严格的交通管控和小区封闭措施,封城后艾滋感染者无法按时领取抗病毒药物,面临断药风险。

封城后武汉同志中心通过电话和互联网平台为艾滋患者提供咨询服务并收集求助信息,组建爱心车队接送艾滋患者往返医院就医,每天前往武汉市金银潭医院待超过8个小时帮助艾滋病人代领药物,为了尽快把药物送到病人手上志愿者需要连夜甚至是通宵分类和打包药物。

截至2020年3月9日,团队接待了超过4000名艾滋患者的咨询,成功帮助近2200名感染者获取了艾滋病抗病毒药物。

 

As of the end of October 2018, Hubei province reported 19,166 cases of live HIV infections and patients, affected by the new crown pneumonia epidemic, all cities in Hubei province have taken strict traffic control and district closure measures, HIV infected people are at risk of outage after they are unable to receive antivirus medicines in time.

 

Wuhan comrades center provides consultation services to aids patients via phone and internet platforms, forming a loving convoy to take aids patients to and from hospital for medical treatment. They go to jinyintan hospital every day. To help aids people get medicines on their behalf, volunteers need to classify and pack drugs overnight or even overnight.

 

As of March 9, 2020, the team had received more than 4000 AIDS patients who successfully helped nearly 2200 infected people access HIV medication.

Those wishing to support the Center can visit lalgbtcenter.org/donate. Updates on the Center’s response to COVID-19 can be found at lalgbtcenter.org/updates.

 

 

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AIDS and HIV

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

Jill Biden made announcement on Saturday in Panama

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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.

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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”

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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.
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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”

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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.

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