Michigan's LGBT Newspaper, AIDS Service Organizations Launch New HIV Prevention and Testing Site

New Site, PrEP4ITNow.com, Features Videos of Michigan Residents Who Have Taken the HIV Test, a Call to Join the New "rEVOLUTION" Against HIV, and Detailed Information About New Discoveries Related to HIV Prevention

LANSING, Mich. -- In honor of National HIV Testing Day (June 27, 2014) Between the Lines -- Michigan's LGBT weekly newspaper -- and several nonprofit groups working to fight the HIV epidemic in Michigan have launched a new social media and web campaign to draw attention to the significant changes in HIV prevention and care sciences which are literally changing the fight against HIV.

Drawing on a body of scientific literature which has assessed many of the prevention options available to the public -- from chemoprophylaxis to behavior interventions to condoms -- the site draws a direct connection between the necessity of HIV antibody testing and the fight against HIV. It is the first Michigan based website to outline how recent scientific discoveries about HIV transmission can be applied to a "rEVOLUTIONARY" change in the fight against HIV.

"Too often, today, when we talk about HIV we hear folks operating from an understand of HIV which is two decades old -- and completely wrong," says Todd Heywood, who developed the project for Between the Lines. "This fundamental misunderstanding of HIV is actually resulting in more people -- particularly men who have sex with men and transgender women -- becoming infected. Prevention has to include access to up-to-date, scientifically accurate information. We can no longer afford to pretend that current prevention and intervention messaging, based on out of date science, works."

Men who have sex with men and transgender women continue to be disproportionately impacted by HIV in the United States. A study released at the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force Creating Change Conference in Atlanta in 2012 was a stunning eye-opened. Gregory Millett, of the CDC and assigned to the White House Office of National AIDS Policy, reported that the current cohort of 20-year-old men who have sex with men in the US have a 10 percent prevalence rate. Black MSM in the cohort have a prevalence rate of 20 percent. At current transmission rates, in 30 years, half of all MSM will be infected with HIV, and 70 percent of black MSM will be infected.

Adding to the crisis is the lack of knowledge of HIV status. In 2010, a CDC study found that 1 in 5 gay and bisexual men in 21 major U.S. cities (including Detroit) were infected with HIV. Of those infected, 44 percent did not know they were infected. Men under age 30 in the study were significantly less likely than those over age 30 to know they were infected.

Innovations in prevention options, however, have the potential to change the game with HIV. Last month, the CDC announced broad new clinical guidance for medical providers to prescribe pre-exposure prophylaxis, commonly known as PrEP. The studies behind the intervention show that when the anti-HIV drug Truvada is taken daily it is 99 percent effective in prevention HIV transmission for those who are HIV-negative. That's more effective than any other prevention option currently being used in the United States. In addition, for those who are HIV-positive, treatment with a combination of anti-HIV drugs can reduce the viral load in that person's blood to fewer than 28 viral particles per milliliter of blood. Studies show that suppressing the virus that much reduces the potential to transmit HIV by 96 percent. In fact, public health officials have not documented a single case of a person with an undetectable -- or suppressed -- viral load transmitting the virus to another person.

But health officials, activists and prevention experts agree, the first step in engaging this knew science is to know your HIV status. HIV testing takes about 20 minutes and is extremely accurate. The test includes a finger prick, and uses a drop of blood to detect antibodies to the HIV, the virus that can lead to AIDS.

"We know that people continue to become infected by HIV every day and the majority of those infections are coming from people who don't know that they are HIV-positive," says Kevin Gierman, prevention coordinator for Red Project in Grand Rapids. "With regular testing and increased awareness about a variety of prevention options, we can identify people with HIV and connect them to services, reduce infection rates, and help everyone to live healthier. By engaging in conversations about what risk and risk-reduction really looks like, we can fight stigma and make informed health decisions that will lead to healthier communities. PrEP4ITNow.com is a resource that we hope will both educate people and point them to local resources where they will be able to find answers and support. Join the rEVOLUTION!"

Susan Horowitz, editor and publisher of Between the Lines, says the decision to sponsor and promote the program was an easy one. "We made a commitment one year ago to make HIV an editorial priority," she says. "We told our readers then we were doing it, and we are continuing. We believe this is an essential tool and message for our readers. We are exceedingly excited to be joined by AIDS service organizations across the state, and believe that shows this message and website are, in fact, going to be important tools in the fight against HIV."

Horowitz cautioned that the program would only be successful with help from the traditional media.

"Despite nearly two decades of science showing that having HIV is no longer a death sentence, media continues to paint the infection in that light. That, in turn, impacts American's everyday understanding of HIV," she said. "The Kaiser Family Foundation reports 6 in 10 Americans get their information about HIV from the media. When the media is incorrectly reporting on the virus, is it any wonder the vast majority of Americans are also misinformed about the infection, treatment and prevention? Our hope is that traditional media outlets throughout Michigan will help us promote this new project so we can work together to provide clear, accurate information about HIV infection and prevention to the public."

As of June 23, 2014, the following non-profit AIDS Service Organizations in Michigan have become partners with the new initiative: Lansing Area AIDS Network, Red Project Grand Rapids, Wellness AIDS Services in Flint, Michigan AIDS Coalition in Detroit, and Community AIDS Resources and Education Services of Kalamazoo and Benton Harbor.

"With the advent of prevention options like pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a new understanding of HIV transmission and the science of caring for those already infected, we know that we can slow this virus down," says Dwayne Riley, prevention manager at Lansing Area AIDS Network.

"I think with the advent of PrEP, in combination with all the other science we have, it means we truly have reached a point of rEVOLUTIONARY Choices," says Teresa Spring, prevention manager at Wellness AIDS Services in Flint. "I am proud to add PrEP to the tool box of options available to us, and satisfied we can finally have a rational conversations about what our toolbox of options should consist of and what it looks like."

For Ingham County Commissioner Todd Tennis, the new website promoting the science and evidence behind HIV prevention options is essential to ending the HIV crisis.

"We have seen revolutionary advances in medical science to combat HIV infection, but it is meaningless without rEVOLUTIONARY changes in our thinking and behavior," Tennis says. He also services as the vice chair of the Ingham County Commission Health Policy Committee. "We can finally make huge strides to reduce the prevalence of HIV, and this program is the first step."

The new campaign will feature tweets, Facebook memes, and videos driving traffic to the website PrEP4ITNow.com (also PrEP4ITNow.Today). There viewers will have the option to explore why testing is important, what science has taught us about HIV transmission, and what we now know works to prevent new infections. Initial videos promoting the new site feature local opinion leaders drag performer Cheetah, Andrew Wilson, Emily Horvath, Emily Dievendorf, Alex Duran, Alex Saenz, Sam Inglot, Gregory Fink and Todd Tennis, Ingham County Commissioner. The videos have also been customized to promote HIV testing events in partner areas across the state.

Here are the specific National HIV Testing Day events from around the state of Michigan:

  • Grand Rapids:
    On Thursday June 26, Red Project will offer free, confidential HIV testing at Rumors Night Club in Grand Rapids from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. The club is located at 69 Division Street in Grand Rapids. On Saturday June 28, the Red Project will be at Diversions Night Club from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. offering free, confidential HIV testing. That club is located at 10 Fountain St. N.W. in downtown Grand Rapids. For more information on other testing dates and times, call Red Project at 616.456.9063.
  • Kalamazoo/Benton Harbor:
    On Friday June 27th, CARES is partnering with the Berrien County Health Department at 769 Pipestone in Benton Harbor. The event will be health fair where we provide HIV and STD testing, discussions on PrEP, assistance in signing up for Healthy Michigan insurance and smoking cessation assistance. We are also teaming with local health institutions Lakeland Hospital and Intercare Community Health Centers. The event is from 11-4pm with giveaways and incentives for testing. Call (800) 944-2437 for more information on testing options.
  • Flint:
    Wellness AIDS Services will offer testing June 27th -- testing from 12-6pm at the main site -- 311 e court St. in Flint -- HIV tests, syphilis, and STI screenings. Free food with test and a chance to win a prize. The testing event is the result of partnering with TRUSTING HOUSE, Genessee County Health Department and the healthy sexuality coalition. The agency will also offer testing June 28th from 1-6 in conjunction with Flint Gay Pride in the Park. STI screenings available too. Gift card for the first 10 testers. Partnering with the Genessee County Healthy Sexuality Coalition. For more information on testing options call Wellness at (810) 232-0888.
  • Lansing Area AIDS Network:
    On June 28, the Lansing Area AIDS Network will offer free HIV testing at Diversity Counseling in Old Town from 4 p.m. to midnight. In addition, the group will host a rEVOLUTION Bingo game from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. hosted by Drag Divas Delicious and Cheetah. rEVOLUTION Trivia, also hosted by the two drag divas, will happen from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Both games will be held at Esquire Club, and will feature prizes as well as free food from local companies. At 9 p.m. folks are invited to join the Drag Divas for their weekly show at Spiral Video and Dance Bar. For more information on testing options, contact LAAN at 517-394-3560 ext. 30.