Clinton, Sanders respond to 2016 presidential HIV/AIDS questionnaire

Bernie Sanders and Hillary ClintonIn February, a coalition of more than 50 AIDS and HIV service organizations, including AIDS Arms and Houston’s Legacy Community Health, sent a survey to presidential candidates from both parties to assess their stances on HIV/AIDS policies and initiatives. Candidates were question on their positions on HIV stigmatization laws, research funding and needle exchange policies.

Of the five candidates still in the race, only the two Democrats — former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — have responded.

In general both support policies supported by HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention advocates. But when it comes down to the nuts and bolts of policy, Clinton shines.

On the issue of ending HIV criminalization laws, here’s Clinton’s take:

As President, I will work with advocates, HIV and AIDS organizations, and Congress to review and reform outdated and stigmatizing HIV criminalization laws — and I will call on states to do the sameI will continue to aggressively enforce the Americans with Disabilities Act and other civil rights laws to fight HIV-related discrimination. And I will ensure that my Administration releases the latest facts about HIV transmission and risk behaviors to counter unnecessary laws and work to educate prosecutors about the latest science of HIV to reduce unnecessary charges against people with HIV that are not scientifically valid. 

Here’s Sanders’ take:

We should continue and expand the policies that are working. The United States has clearly come a long way in its attitudes towards sexual orientation, gender identity, and health status, but there is still a long way to go. We must ensure that health providers, social services, law enforcement, and all other entities have proper resources and training to handle the varying needs of the community they serve. Schools must be giving students age-appropriate, comprehensive sex education. I echo the Strategy’s recommendation that all Americans should have access to scientifically-accurate information regarding HIV infection. For starters, I would direct FDA to update its blood donation policy. The recent update was a step in the right direction, but a blanket one-year ban is still not supported by science. I have joined other Members in asking FDA to implement a risk-based policy for all donors.

Click here to read Clinton’s complete response. Click here to read Sanders’ complete response.

For what it’s worth, the coalition is still happy to receive responses from remaining GOP candidates Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, businessman Donald Trump and Ohio Gov. John Kasich. In absence of a response, however, the coalition reviewed campaign literature, speeches or other positions of the candidates but found no information directly related to HIV/AIDS issues addressed in the survey.

—  James Russell

New study: PrEP could prevent 168,000 new HIV infections

CDC HIV impactThe Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new research on Wednesday, Feb. 24, showing that reaching the National HIV/AIDS Strategy targets for HIV testing and treatment and expanding the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) could prevent 185,000 new HIV infections in the U.S. by 2020, a 70 percent reduction in new infections.

The study estimates that, between 2015 and 2020:

Reaching the nation’s goal of ensuring 90 percent of people living with HIV are diagnosed, and 80 percent of people diagnosed achieve viral suppression could prevent 168,000 new HIV infections

By also increasing the use of PrEP, a daily anti-HIV pill, among people who are uninfected but at high risk, an additional 17,000 infections could be prevented

If HIV testing and treatment remained the same, expanded use of PrEP among high-risk populations alone could prevent more than 48,000 new infections.

—  David Taffet

Syringe Access Fund announces $2.6 million in grants

Screen shot 2016-02-16 at 4.26.11 PMOfficials with the Syringe Access Fund announced today (Tuesday, Feb. 16), that the agency in January awarded 58 grants, totaling $2.6 million over the next two years, that are focused on policy and implementation support for syringe exchange programs.

Two of the grants are going to Texas agencies: Austin Harm Reduction Coalition in San Marcos and Border AIDS Partnership in El Paso.

According to statistics provided by the Syringe Access Fund, infected needles result in 3,000-5,000 new cases of HIV and approximately 10,000 new cases of hepatitis C each year in the U.S. Scientific evidence has shown that syringe exchange programs significantly reduce transmission of HIV, hepatitis C and other blood-borne illnesses without promoting drug use, the Syringe Access Fund officials say.

The grants come about a month after President Obama signed new legislation removing the federal ban on needle exchange programs. That legislation, which the president signed in December, was passed in the wake of the largest HIV outbreak in Indiana’s history last year, in which more than 188 people were newly infected, mainly through injecting drugs with dirty needles.

CDC officials have estimated the lifetime treatment costs associated with the Scott County outbreak may exceed $100 million.

The Syringe Access Fund, the largest private grant-making collaborative supporting syringe exchange programs, was founded in 2004 and is supported by the Elton John AIDS Foundation, (the now closed) Irene Diamond Fund, Levi Strauss Foundation, Open Society Foundations and AIDS United. Syringe Access Fund has distributed nearly $18 million through 347 grants to 161 organizations in 32 states, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

—  Tammye Nash

amfAR GRAPHICS: HIV among gay black men

After our story Good news, bad news: HIV diagnoses decreasing among African-Americans, but black gay men still 3 times more likely to be infected as white gay men ran, amfAR sent us these graphics depicting the severity of HIV infection among gay black men. HIV disproportionately affects this community across the south.

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—  David Taffet

National Black HIV Awareness Day

Turner.Phillip

Phillip Turner

Sunday is National Black HIV Awareness Day. Look for our stories in this week’s paper, but here’s the testing information for the weekend:

• Abounding Prosperity will hold a testing and fish fry event from 2-5 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 6 at Abounding Prosperity, 2311 MLK Blvd.

• Turner and other AHF staff will be testing for HIV and other STDs from 3-6 p.m. at Out of the Closet, 3920 Cedar Springs Road. AIDS Walk South Dallas director Antoine Wiley will speak. Chips, dip and margaritas will be served.

—  David Taffet

Out of the Closet expands

Out of the Closet

Out of the Closet is expanding

Out of the Closet, the thrift store on Cedar Springs Road that supports AIDS Healthcare Foundation, is expanding.

“Sales are good and the need for services continues to grow,” said Bret Camp, AHF Texas regional director.

He said the local Out of the Closet is small by his organization’s standards.

When the spin studio that had the adjoining space went out of business, Camp said they decided to add the additional footage to expand the HIV testing area and display more furniture items. Furniture has been extremely successful for the store at all price points. Camp said he was bringing some expensive pieces in the back entrance and had them sold before they were displayed on the floor.

AHF has two medical clinics in North Texas. One adjoins AIDS Outreach Center on North Beach Street in Fort Worth and the other is at Medical City in North Dallas.

Camp expects the enlarged store on Cedar Springs Road to open in April or May.

—  David Taffet

World AIDS Day 2015 — the presidential proclamation

AIDS ribbon

WORLD AIDS DAY, 2015

BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

A PROCLAMATION

President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama

More than three decades ago, the first known cases of HIV/AIDS sparked an epidemic in the United States — ushering in a time defined by how little we knew about it and in which those affected by it faced fear and stigmatization. We have made extraordinary progress in the fight against HIV since that time, but much work remains to be done. On World AIDS Day, we remember those who we have lost to HIV/AIDS, celebrate the triumphs earned through the efforts of scores of advocates and providers, pledge our support for those at risk for or living with HIV, and rededicate our talents and efforts to achieving our goal of an AIDS-free generation.

Today, more people are receiving life-saving treatment for HIV than ever before, and millions of HIV infections have been prevented. Still, more than 36 million people around the world live with HIV —- including nearly 3 million children. My Administration is committed to ending the spread of HIV and improving the lives of all who live with it. In the United States, the Affordable Care Act has allowed more people to access coverage for preventive services like HIV testing, and new health plans are now required to offer HIV screening with no cost sharing. Insurance companies can no longer discriminate against individuals living with HIV/AIDS or any other pre-existing condition. Additionally, this year marks the 25th anniversary of the Ryan White CARE Act, which established the Ryan White Program — a program that helps provide needed care to the most vulnerable individuals and touches over half of all people living with HIV in America.

To further our fight to end the HIV epidemic, my Administration released our country’s first comprehensive National HIV/AIDS Strategy in 2010. The Strategy provided a clear framework for changing the way we talk about HIV, and it offered a critical roadmap that prioritizes our Nation’s response to this epidemic and organizes the ways we deliver HIV services. Earlier this year, I signed an Executive Order to update the Strategy through 2020, focusing on expanding HIV testing and care, widening support for those living with HIV to stay in comprehensive care, promoting universal viral suppression among individuals infected with HIV, and increasing access to preventive measures, including pre-exposure prophylaxis for people at substantial risk of acquiring HIV.

Additionally, the primary aims of the Strategy include reducing HIV-related disparities and health inequities, because HIV still affects specific populations disproportionately across our country. Certain individuals — including gay and bisexual men, Black women and men, Latinos and Latinas, people who inject drugs, transgender women, young people, and people in the Southern United States — are at greater risk for HIV, and we must target our efforts to reduce HIV-related health disparities and focus increased attention on highly vulnerable populations. My most recent Federal budget proposal includes more than $31 billion in funding for HIV/AIDS treatment, care, prevention, and research. We are also making great progress toward achieving a greater viral suppression rate among those diagnosed with HIV, and in the last 5 years, we have made critical funding increases to ensure more Americans have access to life-saving treatment.

We cannot achieve an AIDS-free generation without addressing the pervasive presence of HIV throughout the world, which is why our Nation is committed to achieving the goals laid out in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development to reach more people living with HIV, promote global health, and end the AIDS epidemic. The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) has helped save lives across the globe and has made significant impacts on the number of new HIV infections by strengthening international partnerships and expanding essential services for preventing and treating HIV. This year, I announced new targets for PEPFAR that aim to provide almost 13 million people with life-saving treatment by the end of 2017. The United States is also committing resources to support PEPFAR’s work to achieve a 40 percent decrease in HIV incidence among young women and girls in the most vulnerable areas of sub-Saharan Africa. This is a shared responsibility, and America will remain a leader in the effort to end HIV/AIDS while continuing to work with the international community to address this challenge and secure a healthier future for all people.

Working with private industry, faith communities, philanthropic organizations, the scientific and medical communities, networks of people living with HIV and affected populations, and governments worldwide, we can accomplish our goals of reducing new HIV infections, increasing access to care, improving health outcomes for patients, reducing HIV-related disparities, and building a cohesive, coordinated response to HIV. On this day, let us pay tribute to those whom HIV/AIDS took from us too soon, and let us recognize those who continue to fight for a world free from AIDS. Let us also recognize researchers, providers, and advocates, who work each day on behalf of people living with HIV, and in honor of the precious lives we have lost to HIV. Together, we can forge a future in which no person — here in America or anywhere in our world — knows the pain or stigma caused by HIV/AIDS.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim December 1, 2015, as World AIDS Day. I urge the Governors of the States and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, officials of the other territories subject to the jurisdiction of the United States, and the American people to join me in appropriate activities to remember those who have lost their lives to AIDS and to provide support and compassion to those living with HIV.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirtieth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand fifteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and fortieth.

BARACK OBAMA

—  Tammye Nash

amFAR announces new institute devoted to finding a cure for HIV

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Paul Volberding, M.D

Officials with amFAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research, announced today (Monday, Nov. 30), the establishment of the amFAR Institute for HIV Cure Research. The new institute will be a collaborative effort based at UC San Francisco and devoted to developing the scientific basis for a cure for HIV by the end of 2020. The institute will be the cornerstone of amFAR’s $100 million cure research investment strategy.

The announcement came during a press conference held early Monday afternoon, just one day before the world marks World AIDS Day 2015.

amFAR CEO Kevin Robert Frost said the foundation “intend[s] ti quicken the pace of cure research by supporting a collaborative community of leading HIV researchers in one cohesive enterprise. The institute will allow them to conduct the science, share ideas and test and evaluate new technologies and potential therapies in a state-of-the-art environment. And I can think of no better base for such an enterprise than the San Francisco Bar Area, the crucible of technological innovation in America.”

Frost added that establishing an institute dedicated to finding a cure for HIV “in a city that was once considered ground zero of the AIDS epidemic brings full circle the outstanding work that UCSF’s researchers have been doing over the past 30 years.”

In a statement released immediately following the press conference, amFAR officials said the new institute will support teams of scientists working across the research continuum — from basic science to clinical studies — and will tap into UCSF’s “extensive research network across the region.” Among the agencies collaborating with the new institute will be the Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology and Blood Systems Research, as well as Oregon Health and Science University, Berkely, Gilead Sciences and the Infectious Disease Research Institute in Seattle.

The new institute was established with a $20 million grant over five years, and it will allow teams of researchers to collaborate across institutions and disciplines to address “the four key challenges that must be overcome to effect a cure: pinpoint the precise locations of the latent reservoirs of virus; determine how they are formed and persist; quantify the amount of virus in them; and eradicate the reservoirs from the body.

The director of the new institute will be Paul Volberding, M.D., a UCSF professor of medicine. Joining him on the leadership team will be Mike McCune, M.D., Ph.D., chief and professor of UCSF’s Division of Experimental Medicine; Warner Greene, M.D., Ph.D., director and Nick and Sue Hellman distinguished professor of translational medicine with the Gladstone Institute of Virology and Immunology, professor of medicine, microbiology and immunology at UCSF and co-director of the UCSF-Gladstone Center for AIDS Research; Satish Pillai, Ph.D., associate professor of laboratory  medicine at UCSF and associate investigator with Blood Systems Research Institute; Steven Deeks, M.D., professor of medicine at UCSF; Teri Liegler, Ph.D., director of the Virology Core Laboratory at UCSF-GIVI Center for AIDS Research; and Peter Hunt, M.D., associate professor of medicine in the HIV/AIDS division and a member of the executive committee of the AIDS Research Institute at UCSF.

They will work in collaboration with Afam Okoye, Ph.D., staff scientist at Oregon Health and Science University.

“For those of us who watched helplessly as thousands died, the opportunity to try and develop an HIV cure is truly amazing,” Volberding said. “We are proud to have been chosen by amFAR as the only amFAR HIV Cure Institute in the nation. We’re ready to end this epidemic.”

—  Tammye Nash

GLAAD, Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation release new PSA on AIDS; CDC releases new statistics

Liz Taylor at Freddie Mercury benefit

Elizabeth Taylor speaking at the 1992 Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation — GLAAD — and the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation today (Tuesday, Oct. 20) announced the release of a public service announcement intended to “inspire, inform and re-ignite the passion and action needed to beat the HIV and AIDS epidemic once and for all.”

Created as part of an ongoing partnership between GLAAD and Elizabeth Taylor Foundation and produced by Martian Entertainment, the PSA begins with Taylor’s speech at the 1992 Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert as a way to introduce a new generation to the realities of HIV/AIDS and the tools available to overcome the epidemic. Meredith Viera, Whoopi Goldberg, Jonathan Groff, Michael Emerson, Tituss Burgess and Bebe Neuwirth are also participating.

A 30-second version of the PSA will air nationally, with support from Comcast-NBCUniversal, and an extended version will run online.

Joel Goldman, managing director of the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, said his organization is “thrilled” to be partnering with GLAAD for this effort, noting that GLAAD was created “to respond to misinformation in the media about HIV and AIDS at a time when conversation in the zeitgeist about the epidemic was very high, but understanding of the virus was very low.”

Today, he continued, “it’s the opposite. Conversation about HIV and AIDS is barely discussed in individual circles and has comparatively fallen out of the news cycle. This is despite the fact that the U.S. has not seen a decrease in new infection rates in nearly two decades.”

GLAAD and the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation announced the release of the PSA on the same day that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released new statistical information regarding HIV among people aged 50 and over and regarding HIV among Hispanics/Latinos.

Here are some of the CDC numbers on HIV/AIDS and people over 50:

• In 2012, people aged 55 and older accounted for 24 percent — almost one quarter — of the estimated 1.2 million people living with HIV infection in the U.S.

• In 2013, people aged 50 and over accounted for about 21 percent of the estimated 47,352 HIV diagnoses in the U.S. Of these, largest number — 44 percent — were among those ages 50-54. The majority of the HIV diagnoses in those ages 50-54 were in African-Americans (59 percent), followed by Hispanics/Latinos (23 percent).

• In 2013, people aged 50 and older accounted for 27 percent of the estimated 26,688 AIDS diagnoses in the U.S.

• Of the 6,955 deaths related to AIDS in 2013, 37 percent were among people aged 55 and older.

Now here are some of the CDC numbers on HIV and AIDS among Hispanics/Latinos:

• In 2013, Hispanics/Latinos accounted for 23 percent of the estimated 48,145 new diagnoses of HIV infection in the U.S. and six dependent areas. Of those, 85 percent were in men.

• In 2013, gay, bi and other men who have sex with men accounted for 81 percent of the estimated HIV diagnoses among Hispanic/Latino men, and the annual number of diagnoses among Hispanic/Latino gay and bisexual men has increased 16 percent since 2008.

• Of the HIV diagnoses among Hispanic/Latina women in 2013, 86 percent were attributed heterosexual contact.

• In 2012, Hispanics/Latinos accounted for 21 percent of the estimated 1.2 million people with HIV infection in the United States, and by the end of 2012, an estimated 125,051 Hispanics/Latinos with AIDS had died in the U.S. and the six dependent areas.

• In 2013, 13 percent of the 6,955 deaths related to AIDS in the U.S. were among Hispanics/Latinos.

—  Tammye Nash

Gallo’s new AIDS vaccine to begin human trials

Robert Gallo

Dr. Robert Gallo

Dr. Robert Gallo, the man who in 1984 first proved that AIDS is caused by HIV and who now runs the Institute of Human Virology, has spent the last 15 years developing an AIDS vaccine. And now that vaccine is about to begin tests in humans, according to an article in Science magazine by Jon Cohen.

The Phase 1 trial will involve 60 volunteers and will focus only on testing the safety of and immune responses to the vaccine. It is being held in collaboration with Profectus BioSciences, a biotech that recently spun off from IHV.

There have been more than 100 AIDS vaccines tested over the years, but Science notes that Gallo and his team have developed a vaccine with “an unusual method of protection.”

The magazine explained that the vaccine, called “the full-length single chain vaccine,” “contains a version of HIV’s surface protein, gp120, engineered so that it links to a few portions of a protein called the CD4 receptor. When HIV infects cells, gp120 first binds to the CD4 receptor on white blood cells and then ‘transitions’ in such a way that hidden parts of the virus are exposed, allowing it to bind to a second receptor on the immune cells called CCR5. Once bound to both receptors, HIV can enter the white blood cell and establish an infection. The IHV vaccine aims to generate antibodies that bind to HIV’s gp120 when it’s in this transitional state, ultimately blocking attachment to CCR5, aborting the infection process.”

Gallo, now 78, said the development of the “full-length single chain vaccine” has taken so much time because he and his team have done extensive testing in monkeys and have faced “the typical vaccine challenges” in creating a human-grade product. They have also had to scramble for funding, he said.

But the researcher also acknowledged that he and his team took more time to bring the vaccine to trial because “We wanted more and more answers before going into people.”

The vaccine development team is being led by George Lewis with IHV, and includes Anthony DeVico and Timothy Fouts.

—  Tammye Nash