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Plans Launched for Black AIDS Monument in South LA

‘Pouring Into Each Other.’ A Virtual/ Digital Monument will feature names of those lost, as well as Black people who have served in the field of HIVAIDS.

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Water fountain that will honor Black Angelenos who’ve died from AIDS
(Photo courtesy Jeffrey King)

LOS ANGELES – America passed a gruesome milestone on Feb. 21: 500,000 people dead from the novel coronavirus in the year since it hit U.S. shores. Official counts fail to include LGBTQ victims of COVID-19, though reports consistently report the terrible impact on people of color.

Ironically, it was the mysterious deaths of five gay men in Los Angeles that marked the beginning of the global AIDS pandemic in a CDC report 40 years ago, on June 5, 1981. That report did not mention race.  

“The first five patients were white,” Dr. Michael Gottlieb, who co-authored that first CDC report with gay Dr. Joel Weisman, told PBS’s Frontline in 2012. “The next two were black. The sixth patient was a Haitian man. The 7th patient was a gay African-American man, here in Los Angeles. Most of those first patients died within months. We had no information and no treatment.” Not mentioning the race of the first patient was “an omission on our part.” 

By July 1982, Blacks accounted for more than 86 cases of AIDS – 20 percent of all CDC cases reported that year. By Oct. 1995, more than 500,000 people had died and while the rate of cases among whites decreased from 60% to 43%, and the proportion among Blacks had increased from 25% to 38%. By 1996, as new medications made HIV/AIDS a chronic manageable disease, the CDC reported: “HIV no longer leading cause of death for all Americans ages 25-44; remains leading cause of death of African Americans in this age group.”

To ensure that Blacks lost to AIDS are not ignored — including those who chose to remain anonymous — longtime HIV/AIDS advocates Jeffrey King, Founder and Executive Director of In The Meantime Men’s Group, Inc., The  Black LGBTQ+ Mecca in South Los Angeles, and Cynthia Davis, MPH, the renowned Professor at the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine — recently convened a community meeting to create a Black AIDS Monument on the grounds of the Carl Bean House in South LA. 

“All Black Lives Matter. Every Black life lost to the HIV/AIDS epidemic still matters today. It is my responsibility to educate those who are here today about the long and painful journey to now,” King tells the LA Blade. “I am honored to work alongside Cynthia Davis and key community stakeholders as we collectively create both physical and virtual spaces that will commemorate those lost along the way and those who have dedicated their lives to ending the epidemic. We have entered the 40th anniversary of the HIV/ AIDS global pandemic and Black people continue to be disproportionality impacted. I have dedicated a great portion of my adult life to educating and preventing the spread of HIV in the Black community.  In The Meantime has been on the forefront and in the trenches — outreaching, testing, and linking our people to lifesaving treatment and medical care. The Los Angeles Black AIDS Monument (LABAM) will serve as a focal point for healing.”  

The convening came up with numerous agreed-upon recommendations for the project, including that LABAM will be a fixed water fountain at the Carl Bean House built with the theme ‘Pouring Into Each Other.’ A Virtual/ Digital Monument will feature names of those lost, as well as Black people who have served in the field of HIVAIDS. The LABAM team will also ask several writers to conduct interviews with key community stake holders to document the Black history of the AIDS epidemic and its impact.

In The Meantime’s Jeffrey King and Prof. Cynthia Davis co-chair the project 

A question remains about displaying names. Should the physical monument feature names of the dead, inspirational quotes or remain untouched to spiritually honor and remember the anonymous dead, a monument akin to the revered Tomb of the Unknown Soldier? 

The first phase of the project will rollout in June for National HIV Testing Day, June 27, 2021. The LABAM team intends to complete the project by World AIDS Day, December 1, 2021. 

“I am honored to be co-chairing an initiative to erect the Black AIDS Monument in South Los Angeles,” Davis tells the LA Blade. “Having been proactively involved in working to slow the spread of HIV/AIDS in the Black community and other communities of color over the past 37 years, when Jeffrey King came to me about the project, I was ecstatic.  I felt this initiative was long overdue.  As we approach the 40-year anniversary when the HIV/AIDS pandemic was officially recognized, we all should be counting our blessings that in 2021, there are lifesaving ARVs [Antiretroviral medications] available domestically and globally, as well as, other primary prevention initiatives such as PrEP [ pre-exposure prophylaxis] and PEP [post-exposure prophylaxis] to help slow the spread of this dreaded disease.  However, after 40 years, we still have our work cut out for us.  I look forward to the day when we can say emphatically, ‘we have defeated the global HIV/AIDS pandemic.’” 

The LABAM team is asking those interested in this Black community endeavor to collect the correctly spelled names of both the dead and community leaders in the HIV field, including their positions. King requests that those lists be submitted to him by March 15, 2021 at [email protected].

The next LABAM meeting on Zoom is scheduled for Monday, March 22, 2021.

Karen Ocamb is a veteran journalist, the former news editor of the Los Angeles Blade & a longtime chronicler of LGBTQ+ lives in Southern California.

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AIDS and HIV

HBCUs receive millions to address HIV inequalities in South

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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AIDS and HIV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The full study is available here: (Link)

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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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