State Rep. Rafael Anchia filed HB2006 to require that anyone who receives a negative HIV test result will be provided with information about PrEP — pre-exposure prophylaxis — to prevent transmission of HIV in the future.
Resource Center Communications and Advocacy Manager Rafael McDonnell called it a common sense bill that would help prevent the spread of HIV on a statewide basis. His agency and others that do HIV testing already regularly offer that information when providing HIV test results.
All that would be offered is information.
“If they get a negative test result, is PrEP right for them as an HIV preventive tool?” McDonnell said.
No prescriptions would be offered. No referrals to a doctor or clinic prescribing PrEP would be required by the bill. Simply information.
McDonnell said he believes the reason PrEP hasn’t been as popular in Texas as elsewhere is simply a lack of information.
The use of combination anti-viral drugs has led to successful treatment and care of those who have HIV and AIDS, to the point where many individuals are able to live relatively healthy lives with normal lifespans.
But that success depends greatly on strict adherence to a sometimes complex medication and follow-up care regimen, something that not all HIV patients can attain. In fact, hospitalized HIV patients are among those with the highest readmission rates, meaning they are readmitted into the hospital within 30 days of discharge. Healthcare experts say various medical and social factors account for that high rate.
An innovative project at Parkland Health & Hospital System that focuses on both the inpatient and outpatient care of HIV patients has led to significant reductions, as much as 40 percent, in the rate of readmissions. Parkland’s HIV Transitional Care Project, a three-year effort that began in fiscal year 2014, uses a multidisciplinary team of HIV specialists that includes physicians, mid-level providers such as nurse practitioners or physician assistants, transition nurses, pharmacists and social workers to care for and instruct inpatients to help them make the transition to outpatient care.
“HIV patients need to have specialty care and they need far more coordinated care, not just for medical issues but also social needs,” said Ank Nijhawan, MD, one of the HIV specialists involved with the Parkland project. Dr. Nijhawan also is an Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “For HIV inpatients, that kind of care is vital. But some patients, for whatever reason, do not follow up with their medication or plan of care, and that leads to them being hospitalized again or even dying. We have patients, many in their 20s and 30s, who still die from this disease.”
According to John Raish, Parkland’s Vice President of Transformational Initiatives, the HIV Transitional Care Project is one of the system’s 1115 waiver projects that provide state funding for uncompensated care and for programs that increase healthcare access to underserved populations.
“We feel the HIV Project has been a great success and is a great example of why the 1115 Waiver programs are crucial for improving healthcare in Texas. We have actually far exceeded our goals in terms of number of patients served,” Raish said. “Realistically, we have reduced the number of HIV patients we would have expected to readmit by about 40 percent.”
The HIV Transitional Care Project is important, Dr. Nijhawan added, because of the great difference medicines can make in a patient’s life. Medication can often effectively lower a patient’s viral load (the amount of HIV in the blood) to levels that cannot be detected by most common testing. While the person is still infected with HIV, their risk of developing a serious opportunistic infection is greatly reduced.
Mamta Jain, MD, who also works on the Parkland HIV Project and is an Associate Professor of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern, said readmissions had been high at Parkland because of the vulnerable populations that the hospital system treats. “Through this waiver project, Parkland was able to hire the dedicated staff who can make a difference in those HIV readmissions.”
Dr. Nijhawan previously worked on an HIV readmissions study that showed HIV patients had readmission rates of about 25 percent, higher than other diseases such as heart disease and pneumonia. The study, conducted in conjunction with the Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation (PCCI), was published in 2012 in the Journal of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome.
The study confirmed that in addition to medical issues, such as the severity of opportunistic infections and access to medicines, social factors such as housing instability, lack of insurance, distance to healthcare facilities and poverty contributed to readmission rates.
As a result of the HIV Project, Dr. Nijhawan said, many HIV patients are enjoying a better quality of life.
“Many of our patients have spoken about the great improvements they’ve experienced. They’ve had fewer illnesses and are able to live more normal lives,” Dr. Nijhawan said.
Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis — PrEP for short — is a a daily regime of medicines for HIV-negative individuals who are at high risk of HIV infection intended to help them keep from becoming HIV-positive. It is, Resource Center Communications and Advocacy Manager Rafael McDonnell said, “one of the tools” that people can use to avoid HIV infection.
But it is, possibly, a greatly under-utilized tool, McDonnell said, maybe because people just aren’t familiar with it and how it works.
Resource Center‘s United Black Ellument and Team Friendly DFW, an organization focused on fighting the stigma that too often accompanies an HIV-positive status, aim to change that. And they plan to start with the PrEP Rally set for Saturday, Oct. 15, from 2-5 p.m. at Resource Center, 5750 Cedar Springs Road.
Those who attend will learn what PrEP is, how it works, and if it is right for them, as medical professionals and community volunteers share their own PrEP stories and talk about Resource Center’s plan to launch its own PrEP clinic soon.
“We will be launching a PrEP clinic sometime later this fall or early next year,” McDonnell said, adding that center officials are already working to line-up the volunteer medical professionals necessary to operate the clinic.
“We need medical professionals to do the necessary blood work for those who come in, and to talk to people about PrEP and whether it’s right for them,” he explained.
“Right now, Tarrant County is the only public health clinic in the state of Texas that operates a PrEP clinic,” McDonnell continued. “We’d love to see Dallas County start a similar program here. It’s likely that a county PrEP clinic would reach people that the Resource Center couldn’t reach, and we’d reach people the county couldn’t reach.”
The PrEP Rally will include food and beverages for those attending, but McDonnell encouraged interested persons to RSVP quickly because seating is limited. Admission is free, but those who want to attend should register here to guarantee their seat.
Tiaras, glamorous gowns and house-rocking performances raised $53,412 — 33 percent more than in 2015 — at the 13th annual Miss LifeWalk pageant Sunday, July 24, at the Rose Room in S4. The 2016 Pageant was produced by the Guys and Dolls LifeWalk Team and hosted by Heather Thomas and Mark Manley.
“Guys and Dolls is delighted that the Miss LifeWalk Pageant continues to grow and gets bigger and better every year,” pageant organizer Landon Starnes said. “It is exciting to watch the contestants competitively raise money and bring in record numbers each and every year, not to mention the passion and generosity of those that give, and this year was spectacular! We are truly grateful to be a part of this journey and work with such lovely people!”
The 2016 contestants were Miss Rita Fine representing Guys & Dolls, Linze Serell representing the Green Team, and Vanity Storm representing Team Metro (GDMAF). Serell raised more than $23,000, a new record for an individual contestant. Special guest performances included former Miss LifeWalk winners Sabrina Starr (2005), Anita Nother (2010), Lotta Pink (2011), Veda Chardonnay (2013), Heidi Liquere (2014) and Charlotte Bardeaux (2015) who crowned the 2016 winner — Vanity Storm.
The 2016 Miss LifeWalk winning categories are as follows:
Miss Congeniality – Rita Fine
Miss Spirit of LifeWalk – Linze Serell
Miss Money Bags – Linze Serell
Evening Wear Winner – Vanity Storm
Talent Winner – Vanity Storm
2nd Runner Up – Rita Fine
1st Runner Up – Linze Serell
Over the 13 years the pageant has raised more than $189,283 for LifeWalk.
LifeWalk 2016 takes place Sunday, Oct. 9, beginning and ending in Lee Park. This year’s walk will benefit AIDS Arms, Inc. and other AIDS services partner agencies: Abounding Prosperity, AIDS Interfaith Network, AIDS Services of Dallas, Cathedral of Hope, Dogs Matter, Greg Dollgener Memorial AIDS Fund, Tucker’s Gift, Turtle Creek Chorale, The Women’s Chorus of Dallas and UT Southwestern Community Prevention and Intervention Unit.
It was 1992 and I had just moved to Dallas from a small college town in Florida. HIV/AIDS was a growing issue in my experience, but it had already taken many people in Dallas, including leaders in our LGBT community. I was too young to understand the power of the Stonewall Riots in 1969, so my personal experience with HIV/AIDS was my first defining moment to get involved in the community.
The mind-set in our community was different then. We had lost so many, and ACT-UP was in the streets and angry. Our community was under attack.
I remember making signs for protests and joining the board of DGLA. Lesbians fought to help save the lives of their gay brothers and in the process galvanized our community. Drag queens and transgender people were at the heart of many community actions. The sense of LGBT community was very strong.
Today, HIV/AIDS is still a devastating diagnosis for anyone, but is viewed by some in our younger community to be a manageable illness. These millennials have not experienced the struggles and death at the same scale. Our sense of community has waned over the years.
But then ….
It’s 2 in the morning in Los Angeles, where I have traveled for work, and the phone rings. Fifty people lay dead in a Florida gay bar, and more than 50 others are injured.
This is the start of another heart-wrenching, defining moment that unfortunately will make history and play out as Pride celebrations prepare to march.
The morning stretches on and I find myself sitting in a hotel room in West Hollywood preparing for LA Pride. I feel sick as the stress rises in my body, watching the reports from Florida, then the vibration of my cell phone makes me jump. A text message about an arrest near L.A. that has foiled another attempted attack on our community illuminates the room. My heart drops.
What is next?
We have come so far as a community, and each positive or negative defining moment presents an opportunity for us to come together in a way that makes our community stronger.
My husband Tony and I had been living in Dallas for several years when the Supreme Court invalidated sodomy laws with the Lawrence vs. Texas ruling in 2003. This was a positive defining moment for us that provided hope for our community and empowered our movement.
We experienced a setback in 2008 when California passed Prop 8, but our commitment to stand up and fight just made us stronger. Last year, the Supreme Court’s marriage equality ruling legalized our marriages, and as a community we have seen growing acceptance as Love Wins.
But now, once again our community is under attack. We are devastated by this senseless act of violence. As we mourn the victims in Florida, we also march on in solidarity and in honor of those we lost.
This is another defining moment for me. I feel like our community has a renewed fight. Once again, arm-in-arm we march. We stick together and support each other. My hope is that we find renewed strength in this tragedy and we once again become galvanized and strengthened as the LGBT community.
Our life experiences and defining moments influence our choices and how we choose to show up in the world. What is your defining moment? How will you make a difference?
Leo Cusimano is co-owner and publisher of Dallas Voice and Voice Publishing Co
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition June 17, 2016.
Brad Pritchett and Israel Luna took DVtv to S4 on Friday night to talk to 80s pop princesses Debbie Gibson and Tiffany who performed at the 11th annual MetroBall, benefitting the Greg Dollgener Memorial AIDS Fund.
LGBT and AIDS activist Larry Kramer was one of the loudest voices in the fight against AIDS and its stigma in the 1980s.
How old were you when the AIDS epidemic first hit?
How old were you when the New York Times printed that first story about gay men dying of some mysterious cancer? When they called it GRID — Gay-Related Immune Deficiency? When they realized it wasn’t just gay men getting sick and started calling it AIDS — Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome? When they finally discovered the human immunodeficiency virus — HIV — that causes AIDS?
How old were you when the men of our community were dying every day?
Truth is, a lot of people reading this weren’t even born yet back then. A lot more were just wee tots with no idea what was happening. For some, the 1980s are ancient history, not personal history, with no relevance to their day-to-day lives.
That lack of historical perspective may be why HIV infection rates are so high among young people.
Now CNN offers a chance to maybe fill in some of the historical gaps for the younger generation with a new episode of the cable channel’s original series The Eighties, “The Fight Against AIDS,” airing tomorrow (Thursday, June 2, 8 p.m. CST). The program “focuses on the pandemic that created a movement and defined a decade.”
According to a press release, this “mysterious and lethal illness developed into a pandemic with enormous political and cultural consequences. What started as a medical detective story grew into a societal nightmare as first dozens and eventually thousands of people all over the world contracted the lethal virus that came to be known as AIDS. It’s a story of ignorance and heartbreak, but also one of compassion, courage and dedication.”
Award-winning producers Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman, in association with HBO producer Mark Herzog, present the series, The Eighties, which “exploresthe individuals and events that shaped a decade of exceptionalism and excess.” The program combines rarely-seen archival footage and interviews with journalists, historians, musicians and television artists to tell the story of the decade. Future episides will focus on the age of Reagan, the end of the Cold War, Wall Street corruption, the tech boom and the expansion of television and the evolving music scene.
AIDS Arms is looking for gay or bisexual black or Latino men and cisgender and transgender women to participate in a PrEP focus group to gauge awareness within the community.
The group will meet from 7-9 p.m. next Wednesday evening, May 18.
The group will meet in Oak Lawn at a location that can be reached on DART by bus or train. To register and receive the address the focus group will meet, call or email to respond. Call 214-521-5191 or email firstname.lastname@example.org,