News & Notes
A new report on the Clinton adminstration's repsonse to AIDS finds much to criticize and little to praise. "Progress in the federal response to AIDS has stalled in recent months, contributing to a sense of diminished priority for AIDS issues during the president's second term," cited a report from the Presidential Council on HIV/AIDS.
Clinton's own hand-picked AIDS advisors have harshly assessed his administration in this second report. The report accuses the president of lacking "the courage and political will" to provide funding for needle exchange programs, a prevention method that has been proven to be effective at minimizing HIV transmission among intravenous drug users, and that will save taxpayers a significant amount of money concerning medical treatments that will result from the virus being transmitted from people sharing dirty needles.
Clinton's AIDS advisors are also unhappy with the administration's failure to allow Medicaid to pay for drugs that HIV-infected people cannot afford.
The government estimates that it will cost approximately $12,000 per person per year to provide HIV-related treatments for HIV-postive people who are economically disadvantaged, and has decided that this is too high a price tag for Americans to pay.
Overall, the Clinton adminstration's position is that they have responded better than any other adminstration to the needs of people living with HIV or AIDS and have taken a stronger leadership role.
Sandra Thurman, director of the White House Office of National AIDS Policy had a couple of responses to the negative report. "I understand people's frustrations. We're grappling with some really hard stuff. Taking care of people in the short run and taking care of people in the long run are two different things." She cited difficulties the administration is having concerning what they view as "the issues surrounding AIDS." The White House believes that there has been a shift in the fight against AIDS from prevention to "controversial and expensive policy proposals." Thurman said, "The stuggle to get the best quality of care and the best medications to all HIV-positive Americans is a very difficult fight and one I know the President is committed to winning."
HIV-encephalopathy is a progressive brain disease that attacks the mental and motor function capacities. According to results presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America, HIV-encephalopathy (more commonly called dementia) was halted, and in some cases reversed through treatment with protease inhibitors.
Eighty-nine percent (89%) of 16 patients with AIDS dementia clearly exhibited stablized or non-existent dementia after scans taken by magnetic imaging technology were reviewed. When scans are taken of the brain, bright white patches indicate dementia, and patients who were treated with protease inhibitors had darker patches than the scans of people in the study who did not receive treatment.
Not all researchers are encouraged by the results of this study. Dr. David Simpson, director of the neuro-AIDS research program at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York believes that magnetic imaging is not the best way to determine whether dementia has or has not progressed. According to Dr. Simpson, "Dementia is a clinical diagnosis, based on thinking ability." Researchers are hopeful that as protease inhibitors have been effective treating other diseases, it will also be beneficial to people who are suffering with dementia.
"AIDS has already become as big a killer in Africa as malaria. Economic losses due to AIDS may soon outweigh foreign aid in some African countries," according to Peter Piot, the head of the U.N. AIDS program. This grim fact was stated at Africa's top AIDS conference held this month in Abijan, the capital of the Ivory Coast. A number of Africa's leaders, leading AIDS experts from around the world, and French President Jacques Chirac were in attendance. Hiroshi Nakajima, the director of the World Health Organization said, "The signs are that the infection rate has doubled in one year in African states. AIDS, malaria, and tuberculosis continue to be the three development-related diseases. In Uganda the transmission rate is decreasing, so there is a certain cause for hope." Two-thirds of the 30.6 million HIV-infected people in the world are African. Out of 10 HIV-infected women in the world, eight are African. Out of 10 HIV-infected children in the world, nine are African, and out of nine million children in the world who are orphaned due to HIV, 7.4 million of then are African ... According to a report that polled Europeans concerning their attitudes about people infected with HIV, 82 percent of them believe that even though HIV-positive people lead ordinary lives, close to 50 percent wouldn't share a cup with them. Seven thousand people representing seven countries (Britain, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Spain, and Switzerland) were surveyed. The survey also asked respondents whether they would have "safe sex" with an HIV-positive person, and 40 percent indicated that they would. Survey results varied country-by-country with 68 percent of the French saying they would drink from the same cup as an HIV-positive person while only 31 percent of the Italians would. The European AIDS Treatment Group (EATG) commissioned the report. The group's executive director, Arjen Broekhuizen had this to say, "The key point here is . . . how is it possible for people with HIV and AIDS to have normal lives in Europe if there is so much prejudice around."
World AIDS Day
The lives of people living with AIDS were honored around the globe on World AIDS day. There were candlelight demonstrations and rallies in the U.S. and Europe, television stations in Greece showed HIV-related documentaries and aired an hourlong radio program about AIDS. In Russia, young actors dressed as prostitutes and others believed to be at high-risk, performed skits abouts the dangers of HIV. In Asia, from China to India, new AIDS awareness programs were announced. It was noted that while encouraging treatment developments were made this year in industralized nations, developing countries are in crisis situations concerning the lack of access to the new treatments available and effective prevention models. According to French Health Minister Bernard Kouchner, "They are dying less in France, in the rich countries, but they continue to die more and more in the poor countries."
Figures that were released by UNAIDS and the World Health Organization estimate that "one in every 100 sexually active pople age 15 to 49 worldwide has HIV, and among those infected, only one in 10 knows it."
Gay Men Need To Learn More About Oral Sex
According to a report in the Journal of the Gay and Lesbian Medical Association, gay men are under a false impression concerning the risk of HIV transmission during oral sex. The study cites contradictory prevention messages as the reason for the confusion associated with this sexual practice. "What surpised us is that men who are anxious about oral sex took part in sexual activities that are widely known to be high-risk," said Seth C. Kalichman, Ph.D., the study's lead author. "The study, entitled "Oral Sex Anxiety, Oral Sex Behavior, and HIV Risk Perceptions Among Gay and Bisexual Men" makes it clear that men are making decisions about when to use condoms based on what they believe is safe and underscores the need for specific HIV prevention messages that target specific behaviors. Our data do not support the belief that telling men oral sex is safer than anal sex will make them abandon safer sex altogether."
The anonymous study was conducted with 348 gay and bisexual men in Atlanta who were attending a gay pride festival there.
Close to one third of the respondents fit into the category of being "oral-sex anxious," with more "oral-sex anxious" men using condoms during oral sex than "non-anxious" men. Among the "non-anxious" men, 50% of them who had anal sex within six months of taking the survey did so without a condom, and during the same time period, 49% of the "anxious" men had anal sex without using a condom.
"This study lends credence to the hope that if we can help gay men understand the relative risks of different sexual activities they will make choices that are more likely to keep them healthy," said GLMA Executive Director Ben Schatz.
As flu season rips through the northeast, Streetside, a small volunteer inoculation program composed of medical professionals and students has completed its sixth year giving out free flu shots in single-room occupancy hotels, needle exchange sites and soup kitchens in New York City. The group also gave out Pneumovax, a vaccination for a bacterial pneumonia that is very dangerous to people with HIV. Streetside's clients are grossly underserved, with more than half lacking regular medical care. This past November, the group gave out more than 500 influenza shots and 200 pneumococcal vaccinations. Dr. Sharon Stancliff, a Streetside member, said that much anecdotal evidence indicates that drug users are also very susceptible to this pneumonia. Stancliff said, "Pneumococcal disease is a bacterial pneumonia that has a high mortality rate for people with HIV and other chronic illnesses like diabetes and lung disease." Streetside's goals are not only to get the vaccinations out, but "to show our clients that they can do something about their health care even if they do drugs, and to give health professionals and students positive experiences with people they usually only see in adverse situations."
News brief provided by Dylan Foley
This article was provided by Body Positive. It is a part of the publication Body Positive.