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Gary Bell

Transition to Hope

Opt-Out and Eliminating Consent for HIV Testing
September 14, 2010

President Obama's new AIDS Strategy calls for a renewed effort to reduce new HIV infections by 25%, increasing the number of people who know their status from 79% to 90%. Crucial to the success of this benchmark is to test more people for HIV. This is consistent with the Center for Disease Control's recent recommendations (in 2006) to encourage HIV testing to become a routine part of medical care. However, one of the more controversial aspects of this push is the distinction between 'opt -in' vs 'opt-out HIV testing. Opt-in testing generally refers to an opportunity for the patient to be asked, by a provider, if s/he would like to be tested for HIV. Opt-out testing means that a patient will be given an HIV test unless s/he chooses not to have one. The CDC has recommended opt-out testing as well as the elimination of written consent (a medical consent form that authorizes HIV testing).

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What Message Do We Want to Take to AIDS 2012 in Washington, D.C.?
July 23, 2010

The conference is starting to wind down. From a personal and environmental perspective, you can feel the air slowly 'leaving the balloon.' The palpable energy level has dropped appreciably. Many of us are just overloaded. There is so much information being disseminated, as well as events, press conferences, and activities, many occurring concurrently, that it is physically impossible to attend but a fraction of it.

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"Our Own House Is on Fire": Thoughts on HIV/AIDS Spending in the U.S.
July 22, 2010

"Charity begins at home." A cliché? Certainly! But with dwindling resources for everything and a raging HIV Epidemic in Black people in the United States, should we concentrate more of our efforts here?

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"The End of the Beginning": Thoughts on Poverty and HIV
July 21, 2010

With yesterday's release of the CDC's report on the relationship between poverty and HIV, and another study on morbidity and mortality released by the University of California, Day Three of the International AIDS Conference of 2010 began on a more somber note. To be blunt: It's about Poverty, stupid.

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How Much Slack Should Activists Give Obama? Thoughts on Bill Clinton's Speech at AIDS 2010
July 20, 2010

Day two of the International AIDS Conference of 2010 began with a bang: an address at the opening plenary by former President Bill Clinton. As expected, it was standing room only. Prior to today, I had only gotten a glimpse of the sheer number of delegates present. However, it was at the Clinton address that I began to see just how many people are here. It is truly amazing -- so many people of different hues, nationalities, and roles: physicians, researchers, representatives from government and non government entities, and, of course, people living with the virus.

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First Reflections From the XVIII International AIDS Conference
July 19, 2010

It's day one of the International AIDS Conference of 2010, but day three for me in Vienna, Austria. This is a time of "firsts" for me. This is my first International AIDS Conference and my first time travelling to Europe. I am attending the conference as a delegate of BTAN, the Black Treatment Advocates Network of the Black AIDS Institute. My day job is as the executive director of BEBASHI -- Transition to Hope, the first black AIDS services organization in the country, which is, this year, commemorating its 25th anniversary. I was honored to be chosen for this important job that will include a three-year commitment, and will involve creating a treatment advocate/education initiative in Philadelphia.

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Does Pregnancy Pose an HIV Infection Risk for Men?
May 27, 2010

Previous studies have demonstrated that pregnant women are at greater risk of HIV infection. However, a new study, presented at the International Microbicides Conference in Pittsburgh in May seems to demonstrate that men have almost double the risk of HIV infection if their partner is pregnant and HIV+. The study, conducted in 7 countries in Africa, involved over 3,300 serodiscordant (one partner is HIV+ and the other is not) couples. Over two years and 800+ pregnancies it was demonstrated that pregnancy increased the risk of HIV infection for both males and females.

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New Developments in HIV Eradication
May 20, 2010

One of the most persistent myths about the HIV epidemic is that the government (or the other perceived villain-pharmaceutical companies) have discovered a cure but that, for whatever reasons, have not made it available. This reasoning fails to take into account the complexity of vaccine development in general, not to mention the unique challenge of curing HIV. One of the crucial steps to finding a cure involves eradicating all of the virus from the body. Complicating this are stubborn reservoirs of HIV that remain in the body and seem out of reach of antiretroviral medication. These reservoirs consist of old CD4 cells that preserve latent HIV throughout the body, essentially storing, or 'archiving' it for decades. Therefore, even though antiretroviral medication may significantly reduce viral reproduction and clear the host of most HIV virus, they never completely purge HIV from the body. When the medication is interrupted or ceases its effectiveness, because of viral resistance, this reservoir can become reactivated, ensuring more viral replication and eventually, more illness. Therefore, the inability to eradicate HIV from the body has been the main stumbling block towards finding a cure.

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A New Super Villain: Gonorrhea?
April 28, 2010

We used to call it venereal disease. Many preferred the more common term: "The Clap." Eventually, a more appropriate term evolved: sexually transmitted disease. Recently, the term "disease" has been exchanged for "infection." Whatever name it was called, we all knew that Gonorrhea, while embarrassing and painful, was also curable. In other words, many felt that is was just a minor inconvenience.

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African-American Women and STIs
March 31, 2010

Recent news has not been kind about women and girls of color and their sexual health. In 2008, a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study reported that almost one-half of adolescent black females were infected with at least on STI (Sexually Transmitted Infection). Now, new evidence has further documented the impact of STIs on women and girls of color. According to the CDC, 48 percent of black women between ages 14 and 49 have the virus which causes genital herpes. Blacks in general are more than three times as likely as whites to have herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) (39.2 percent vs. 12.3 percent). Biological factors make women more susceptible to genital herpes than men. American women in general are nearly twice as likely as men to be infected (21 percent vs. 11 percent). Moreover, up to 80 percent of genital herpes infections in the United States are undiagnosed.

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Transition to Hope

This year marks Bell's 14th as the executive director of the Philadelphia-based BEBASHI (Blacks Educating Blacks About Sexual Health), founded in 1985 as the nation's first AIDS organization serving African Americans with HIV. Bell has been widely praised, not only for increasing funding and accountability at a time when HIV donations have plummeted, but also for launching such innovative programs as a women's initiative, prison-discharge planning, and, most recently, a diabetes intervention.

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