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HIV/AIDS News Digest: March 14, 2011

March 14, 2011

Here is a quick look at a few HIV/AIDS stories recently reported in the media:

"Treatment as Prevention" Reason for Drop in HIV Rates in British Columbia (From Metro-Vancouver)

For years, many HIV advocates -- most recently International AIDS Society president Elly Katabira -- have been hailing "treatment as prevention" as an effective method in reducing new HIV infection rates. Well, Julio Montaner, of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, says he has the proof that it works. In 1996, B.C. reported 800 new HIV infections -- currently, there are only 350 new infections each year.

The Metro-Vancouver reported:

"This is a big decrease in HIV that has not been seen elsewhere in the country," said Montaner. Montaner claims one of the main reasons for the decrease is because more HIV patients are seeking treatment.

"We have advocated that treatment for HIV is not only life-saving and life-prolonging, and it's not only preventing disease progression, but it dramatically decreases the likelihood of HIV transmission," said Montaner.

While "treatment as prevention" does not solve the health, economic and other disparities that make people more vulnerable to HIV, in terms of reducing new infections, this news is very encouraging.

The Root Tackles the Impact HIV Criminalization Laws Have on the African-American Community (From The Root)

While it is not rare for mainstream media to cover stories about HIV criminalization, it is rare when a publication does so and actually discusses the nuances of the issue. On March 11, The Root -- a news site geared for African Americans -- published a feature about how criminalization disproportionately impacts people of color and the gay community. In "Notorious HIV," Cynthia Gordy -- a reporter for The Root -- highlights why these laws fail at keeping new HIV infections down; why these laws help promote ignorance and stigma, which leads to more HIV infections; and how people living with HIV are not predators looking to "infect" HIV-negative people.

The Root reported:

With 34 state laws on the books, the challenge for advocates is daunting. [Catherine] Hanssens [the director of the Center for HIV Law and Policy,] maintains that much of the social change required lies at the feet of public health officials, whom she holds accountable for widespread ignorance about the actual routes and risks of HIV transmission.

"I think that public health officials at the state and federal levels have done a huge disservice to everyone by being coy about how HIV is transmitted and by not giving the facts," she says. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, for example, does not quantify the risk level of oral sex, while Hanssens' and many other HIV-prevention groups contend that it is an extremely low-risk activity.

"When public health officials talk about 'bodily fluids,' that's how we start to see laws where spitting on a police officer can get you 30 years," she says. "But has spitting ever transmitted HIV? No. Can it transmit HIV? No."

Read the feature in its entirety here.

AIDS Healthcare Foundation Ads Tell Gay Men, "There Is No Magic Pill" (From AIDS Healthcare Foundation)

While some in the HIV community have welcomed pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) with opened arms, the AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF) refuses to. On March 9, AHF unveiled its "There Is No Magic Pill" print campaign geared for men who have sex with men (MSM) to warn them about using PrEP as a way to prevent HIV. AHF also believes that Gilead Sciences, the maker of Truvada (tenofovir/FTC), wants the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to approve Truvada as a form of PrEP.

In a press release, AHF stated:

The ads note that '... such modest [study] results are insufficient to support FDA approval of Truvada as an HIV prevention tool for gay men," adding that "It is logical to assume that if patients are taking a drug that they believe will prevent them from becoming HIV-positive, they will be more lax in their use of condoms." The ads also encourage readers to send an e-letter to John C. Martin, Chairman and CEO of Gilead Sciences, Inc. expressing their concerns about Gilead's intentions to promote Truvada as a form of HIV prevention.

"I am deeply concerned about the possibility of increased risk that could come with the use of Truvada as PrEP. How likely are uninfected men to take pills every day for the rest of their lives to prevent a possible HIV infection?" said Homayoon Khanlou, M.D., AHF's Chief of Medicine/U.S. "The consequences of patients who take Truvada haphazardly are that they will become infected, develop drug resistance, and spread drug-resistant virus to others. This is a very serious matter that could significantly set back efforts to fight the epidemic."

The ads are slated to appear in a dozen gay media outlets nationwide including The Windy City Times, The Washington Blade and The Bay Area Reporter.

Sound off: Will PrEP help reduce new infections among MSM or is it opening up Pandora's box? Tell us what you think!

Kellee Terrell is the former news editor for and

Copyright © 2011 The HealthCentral Network, Inc. All rights reserved.

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