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LA Mayor Eric Garcetti to LGBTQ community on coronavirus: Be leaders, save lives

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The LGBTQ community is not invisible to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who has been a strong ally for decades. He is keenly aware that his emergency order to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is an inconvenience – but one that will save lives, not overwhelm hospitals and not crash the unprepared system of healthcare.

“I know this is an anxious time for a lot of people, but Angelenos should stay focused on preparation and protection — not panic,” Garcetti said Sunday issuing his directive ordering temporary restrictions on restaurants, bars, gyms, and other gathering spots in the City of Los Angeles. “We will continue doing everything we can to help guide people through this situation, and working closely with our local, state, and federal partners to keep our communities safe, aware, and informed.”

“Unlike past emergencies where we’ve had heroic first responders, each one of us is a first responder,” Garcetti tells the Los Angeles Blade in a March 16 phone interview. “It’s a different mindset to think that it’s not just a firefighter or a police officer who might save my life — it’s now literally me. We’ve got so many people, we know them even today, while most people are abiding by our mandate, we all have friends who are saying, ‘I’m young, I’m healthy, even if I get it, it’s not going to be too much’ —  and they’re not practicing safe practices,” meaning the precautions recommended by the CDC to vigorously wash hands and follow “social distance.”

“That isn’t just a threat to them, that’s a threat to people they know, people they love, people they interact with. We all have seniors who we know and love and in our family we have people who are fighting diseases and are immunocompromised,” says Garcetti. “In the LGBTQ community, we have practice with that. But now is a moment when in these two weeks, we’ll either push the curve out and flatten it or it will spike and the severity of deaths, the damage to our economy, the length of this crisis is literally in our hands and those hands shouldn’t be touching other people.”

Last year, LA became the largest municipality to formally include LGBTQ businesses in their contracts. Nationally, LGBTQ businesses contribute $1.7 trillion to the U.S. economy, generate, on average, $2,475,642 in revenue, and create more than 33,000 jobs, according to the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce. 

Garcetti is aware of the need by LGBTQ and minority businesses to stay afloat, that the impact of the coronavirus on LGBTQ and other businesses could be devastating.

“We’re pennies on the dollar, compared to the federal government,” Garcetti tells the Los Angeles Blade. “But we are looking at this week putting out a small business assistance program that would just be a bridge loan to folks, just like payroll, to keep their rent going, to basically stay alive and what we hope will be something lasting weeks and not months.”

Garcetti says the city has been very aggressively “pushing everything from helping workers of those business, which relieves those businesses, expanded EITC help from the state where they could maybe double down on the EITC tax credit that they pay families who are eligible.”

Garcetti says “it’d be no more than a billion dollars of the state and we have a six billion dollar surplus to be able to pay those workers. Obviously, helping out businesses too. We’re exploring an amendment where we could have a commercial eviction moratorium without being on the line with every landlord for quote unquote ‘lost business.’”

There’s been help for both renters and residential evictions. “But could we do that for small businesses as well? I’ve asked the city attorney to explore that,” he says. “In terms of outreach specifically to the LGBTQ community and businesses — everybody would be eligible for this and I think as we’ve done with the city, we’ve have a careful eye towards making sure that that information gets out quickly within communities that are more vulnerable and communities that have more small businesses. So I think we’ll have that program rolling by tomorrow — Wednesday I think at the latest.”

Garcetti is looking at how to help alleviate the span of needs, including creating the LA Emergency COVID-19 Crisis Fund through the Mayor’s Fund for Los Angeles.

“Obviously, we’re looking for places where people can get rehired. We’ve looking for places where people can donate to help with those small businesses and the most vulnerable workers and that’s up and running at Corona-virus.LA, where people can donate now,” Garcetti says. “We hope to have already raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to help out and we’ll put a big chunk of that to businesses assistance.”

Hunger is a major issue. “I worked very closely with Katherine Berger, chair of [LA County Board of Supervisors] and there were rumors that Meals on Wheels was going to suspend. It’s quite the opposite,” he says. “We’re ramping those up further. Our senior meals program, which was usually done in rec centers, is now going to go towards delivery to seniors so that they can protect themselves and stay in their homes during this critical few weeks period. I know that the county network just got a $1.5 million dollar donation nationally from Kroger and we’re going to put a piece of that into our local food security and strengthening our food banks. So there’s a lot of focus on food right now. You can expect expanded programming on Meals on Wheels and the other county programs and the city is going to help, obviously with students, the school district, but also with our seniors too.”

Garcetti had a special message for the LGBTQ community.

“This community has been through tougher days than this and the most important thing is to not only be resilient but to be calm,” he says. “There is plenty of food, not just for today or tomorrow, but for months. The overwhelming majority of people are going to not only make it through this but we will come back, but we can be leaders.

“The LGBTQ community — which has seen what spread can do to a community and how devastating it can be — can really be the leaders of influencing in our workplaces, with our families and with others,” he says.

Garcetti goes for Rhodes Scholar cool, as if imitating a millennial influencer: “Hey, let’s maintain this distance for a few weeks so that the party starts again months earlier.”

But the message is deadly serious. “If we don’t do it (social distancing) now, we will see a long, deep suffering — for not just Los Angeles — but this country and this world,” Garcetti says. “My mantra has been: ‘Be a leader, no matter who you are, and when it feels wrong that’s probably the right time to do it. By the time it feels right it’s too late.”

If what feels wrong? “All the advice we’re giving. The social distancing, not going to the gym, not hanging out with friends. ‘Everything’s closed, let’s get together.’ Don’t do those things right now,” he says. “We’re steadily closing those options down but people find their way of being the one exception. Don’t be the exception! Keep your distance. We will get through this…. It’s tough but you adjust to it and then you know that the quicker the adjustment, the quicker the cure.”

The other thing to watch out for is misinformation.

“There’s so much misinformation — check with official sources and trusted media,” Garcetti says. “If I have to tell people one more time that the text from an official source, or somebody who knows the Secret Service agent who works with Michael Pence, or whoever it is, that it’s coming and it’s going to be a nationwide lockdown in 24 hours — it’s just there’s so much false information! There’s robocalls, there’s people preying on folks and fraud, especially our seniors, offering tests that don’t exist. Go to your trusted sources, L.A. CityL.A. County and, of course, The LA Blade.”

 

 

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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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