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News & Notes

October 1998

Condom Ads | International Developments | Immigration Ban Test | Workshop Series for NJ Women | Christian Right | CMV Retinitis Drug Approved

Condom Ads

"Networks that sensationalize sex on TV have a responsibility to portray the reality of sex, not just the fantasy." That's the opinion of Daniel Zingale, Executive Director of AIDS Action, which has sent letters to the presidents of the six major television networks urging them to accept condom ads on programs rated "S" for sexual content under the new television ratings system. Currently, only some cable networks, including MTV, allow condom ads.

AIDS Action advocated for the ads as part of "The Virtual Vaccine," a ten-point policy initiative designed to reinvigorate the national commitment to HIV prevention. The plan was unveiled as a response to increased HIV infection rates, flat federal funding for prevention programs, and the lack of any new prevention efforts by the Clinton administration. In addition, according to AIDS Action, recent studies indicate that Americans get more of their health news, including AIDS information, from television and other mass media than from health professionals and providers.

"AIDS drugs cost $40 a day. Condoms cost 40 cents and stop HIV," added Zingale. "Too many young people think condoms and safe sex are an eighties thing, book-ended between C. Everett Koop and Nancy Reagan's wagging finger. 'Just say no' just doesn't work."


International Developments

HIV/AIDS was among the health concerns targeted by ministers from more than 150 countries for inclusion in wide-ranging national youth programs that they are urging be adopted by the year 2000.

The so-called "Lisbon declaration," arising out of a four-day United Nations conference, called on countries around the world to develop and implement national youth policies and comprehensive plans of action by the turn of the century. Citing HIV/AIDS -- along with tuberculosis, malaria, suicide, and drug abuse -- as among the most serious challenges facing youth, the declaration stated the need for "information, education, communication and campaign awareness among young women and men to fight HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases."

A four-year-old Chinese law that restricts the rights of people with AIDS is up for "clarification," according to the state-run Xinhua News Agency.

The planned revision of the 1994 law was announced at a recent genetics conference in Beijing by Qiu Renzhong, a scientist with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. The law requires people with AIDS, gonorrhea, syphilis, leprosy, and other infectious diseases to "postpone marriage," but it is not specific about whether people with HIV can marry.

Also due for revision are provisions of the same law that discourage people suffering from "genetic diseases" from marriage and childbearing. According to Qiu, the law has been ineffective because it does not specify which genetic disorders are serious enough to fall within its scope.

Qiu said that a committee of the national legislature has accepted his suggestions and plans to revise the law, but did not specify the form the "clarification" would take.

Japanese officials have apparently misplaced the tapes of all but one early government AIDS panel meeting, adding a new chapter to a ten-year-old scandal over the use of HIV-tainted blood products.

The tape that has not disappeared is a recording of the panel's first meeting, in 1983, when the possible dangers of unheated drug products were discussed. It was used this July in the professional negligence case against Akihito Matsumura, who headed the Health Ministry's Biologics and Antibiotics Division from 1984 to 1986.

Dr. Takeshi Abe, who was the head of the AIDS panel, was also indicted on charges that he influenced its March 1984 decision to use unheated instead of heated blood products. The Ministry did not ban the unheated products until December 1985, resulting in the infection of approximately 1,800 hemophiliacs with HIV.

The surviving tape's odyssey is something of a mystery. In a 1996 internal probe, no one recalled the tape's existence. One worker is quoted as having seen "around ten tapes" of panel meetings sometime in 1985, but another was unable to find the recordings in 1988. Only this August, when the results of the internal probe were made public, did the tape resurface.

Immigration Ban Test

Christopher Arnesen, a New Zealander who lived in San Francisco for 28 years, returned to that city in August to claim the Social Security disability benefits he earned while he lived and worked in that city. Arnesen, 56, has AIDS, and his return is a test of the United States ban on immigration by people with HIV.

Despite fears that he would be arrested at the airport, Arnesen was allowed to enter the country on the condition that he see a physician from an approved list and report to the local immigration office within two weeks. "I was scared beyond belief," said Arnesen. "I was expecting to have handcuffs put on me and then be sending postcards to my friends from San Quentin."

Chuck DeMore of the Immigration and Naturalization Service said that officers could consider "certain discretionary factors" when deciding whether to detain someone, and that Arnesen's "physical condition is a compelling humanitarian reason not to put him in custody."

U.S. immigration policy, which forbids entry to foreign nationals who are HIV-positive or who have AIDS or any other "loathsome or contagious" disease, is among the strictest in the world. Immigration lawyers say that the law denies entry to many people who pose no threat to the public health.

In Arnesen's case, the law has resulted in a catch-22 situation. During the 28 years that he lived in San Francisco, working as a photographer and tour guide, he paid nearly $200,000 in Social Security taxes. This entitles him to benefits of approximately $700 a month, dating back to September 1995.

But in 1994, after being diagnosed with AIDS, and after being mistakenly told by someone from the Social Security Administration that he should apply for his benefits from abroad, Arnesen left the U.S. to be near his family. Then, banned from returning because of his illness, he found himself unable to fulfill the two-months-a-year residency required to collect.

According to his attorney, Sarah Patterson, if he can persuade the Immigration and Naturalization Service to allow him to stay in the United States through September, he will have fulfilled that requirement and she can begin the fight to regain the money he is owed. "Once he gets in," she says, "the real work begins."

Workshop Series for New Jersey Women

The New Jersey Women and AIDS Network (NJWAN) has announced the formation of the Sister Connect Peer Treatment and Education Training Program, scheduled to begin in late fall 1998.

Sister Connect is an intensive six-month training series designed to "empower, motivate, and educate women living with HIV/AIDS about treatment issues, advocacy, and female anatomy." Topics to be covered will include female anatomy and reproductive functions, treatment options, legal issues, how to read lab results, and communicating with health care providers.

The training requires a serious commitment. Classes will meet for four hours every two weeks, and participants will receive a $15 stipend for each session they attend. Light meals will be provided. Upon completing the training, participants may join NJWAN's Speakers' Bureau and earn up to $50 per presentation.

The training programs will be held in Jersey City, New Jersey, at a location easily accessible by public transportation, times and dates to be announced. For information, call Plyshette Bethea at 1-800-747-1108, Monday through Friday between 9:00 a.m. and 5:00 p.m.

And on the Christian Right ...

In a summer newspaper ad titled "From Innocence to AIDS," the Christian Coalition has resurrected some old myths about AIDS and tried to breathe new life into the concept, long discredited by responsible people of all religious persuasions, that people with HIV are somehow guilty for their own infection.

The ad urges gay people to change their sexual orientation to avoid HIV infection, thus in one stroke misrepresenting the current state of the epidemic, reinforcing stereotypes, encouraging homophobia, and furthering complacency in high-risk communities.

New CMV Retinitis Drug Approved

Vitravene, a promising new drug for use in the treatment of cytomegalovirus (CMV) retinitis, has been recommended for Federal Drug Administration approval by that agency's Ophthalmic Drugs Subcommittee of the Dermatologic and Ophthalmic Drugs Advisory Committee. CMV retinitis is a degenerative opportunistic infection common in people with AIDS that results in blindness.

Vitravene produced prolonged delay in progression of CMV retinitis. It was found to be well tolerated: Transient increased intraocular pressure and generally mild to moderate, reversible intraocular inflammation were the most frequent ocular side effects; the retinal detachment rate was considerably lower than that commonly observed; and there was no evidence of any systemic toxicity.

"We are very gratified by the Advisory Committee's recommendations for approval of Vitravene," said Stanley Crooke, M.D., Ph.D., Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Isis Pharmaceuticals. "This is an exciting milestone in the development of antisense technology and in Isis' history." Vitravene is the first antisense drug to have been recommended for approval by an FDA Advisory Committee.

"I believe that Vitravene will offer several important benefits to patients with CMV retinitis, including convenient local delivery and lack of systemic side effects, said Debra A. Goldstein, M.D., Assistant Professor of Opthamology at the University of Illinois in Chicago. "Because Vitramene is designed to work through a novel antisense mechanism of action, the potential for resistance is considerably reduced, making it an ideal therapy in patients resistant to other agents."

Vitravene is administered locally into the eye by intravitreal injection. It will be distributed by Isis Pharmaceuticals, Inc., and CIBA Vision.

"Off Label" Drug Promotion

In a potentially far-reaching decision that has AIDS advocates worried, a Federal judge ruled on July 31, 1998 that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) could not restrict pharmaceutical companies from distributing information about non-approved uses of their products.

At issue is FDA authority to restrict so-called "off-label" promotion of drugs. At present, drugs are approved by the FDA for specific purposes, at specific doses, and for specific populations. A manufacturer can advertise only this approved, or "labeled," information.

Many drugs, however, have other uses, and physicians are free to prescribe any drug for any condition. The ruling will allow manufacturers to distribute information about these off-label uses to physicians.

Advocates hope the FDA will appeal the decision. The concern is that the ruling could destroy the delicate balance of drug regulation in this country. For example, a company could seek approval for a very narrow usage of a drug to get it on the market, then promote the product much more broadly.

This could undermine existing incentives for the drug industry to sponsor clinical research that ensures that drugs are really safe and effective for their intended uses.

Back to the October 1998 Issue of Body Positive Magazine.

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This article was provided by Body Positive. It is a part of the publication Body Positive.