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U.S. senators seek review of FDA’s gay blood ban & more



U.S. senators seek review of FDA’s gay blood ban

WASHINGTON — A group of 18 U.S. senators, led by John Kerry (D-Mass.), wrote last month to the Food & Drug Administration, the agency that regulates the nation’s blood supply, to review what they called “outdated, medically and scientifically unsound deferral criteria” that exclude gay donors, according to a report in the Kansas City Star.

The FDA said it is “actively engaged in re-examining the issue of blood donor deferral” among gay men.

“Taking into account the current body of scientific information … we are considering the possibility of pursuing alternative strategies that maintain blood safety,” a recent FDA statement said.

A Health & Human Services advisory committee on blood safety plans to review the issue in June.

The federal government mandated a lifetime ban on blood donations from men who have had sex with men in the 1980s. The rationale was that HIV can be spread through blood transfusions, and gay men are more likely to carry HIV than the general population. But increasingly sophisticated tests are making it easier to detect HIV and a movement has begun seeking an end to the lifetime ban and bring the rules for gay blood donors more in line with restrictions placed on other potentially risky donors, according to the Kansas City Star report.

The FDA’s ban began in 1983, when blood collection facilities began telling donors to refrain from donating blood if they were in any of the groups at high risk of AIDS infection. But the rule for gay men excludes blood donations by all men who have had sex with another man, even one time, since 1977.

Obscure California law seeks cure for homosexuality

LOS ANGELES — A quirky California law requires health experts to find a cure for homosexuality and one lawmaker is working to overturn it.

Bonnie Lowenthal, author of Assembly Bill 2199, represents Long Beach in the California Assembly, and wrote a piece this week for the Los Angeles Times about the origins of the obscure 60-year-old law.

The law came in response to public outcry over sex crimes in California, specifically the molestation-murder of a 6-year-old girl, Lowenthal wrote, but the murderer was not a gay man and there was no connection between the crime and homosexuality.

“Well-meaning California legislators passed a law that not only required health officials to seek ‘the causes and cures of homosexuality,’” she wrote, “but likened people who are gay to child molesters. Amazingly, it’s still on the books. You might call it ‘Linda’s Law.’”

Linda Joyce Glucoft went out to play after dinner on Nov. 14, 1949, and never came home. She was raped and murdered by the grandfather of one of her playmates, a repeat sex offender, according to Lowenthal, and even before the killer had been sentenced to death, Gov. Earl Warren called a special session of the Legislature to deal with the issue of sexual predators. Lawmakers ordered the state’s mental hospitals and universities to find a solution.

“It was at this step, as the Legislature defined the role of science in solving the ‘sexual psychopath’ problem, that gay people — simply because they vexed the psychiatric profession — were swept up in the net,” Lowenthal explained. “In 1950, homosexuality remained, officially, a mental disorder. So when the Legislature promised funding for a study into the causes and cures of sexual deviance, it was, tragically, natural to add homosexuality to the list.”

One of the bills Warren signed included a command that the “Department of Mental Hygiene plan, conduct and cause to be conducted scientific research into the causes and cures of sexual deviation, including deviations conducive to sex crimes against children, and the causes and cures of homosexuality, and methods of identifying potential sex offenders.”

Assembly Bill 2199, authored by Lowenthal, seeks to overturn the law. It was set for its first hearing this week after DC Agenda deadline.

San Francisco backs early antiretroviral drugs for HIV

SAN FRANCISCO — The city’s Department of Public Health is expected to release new guidelines that call for HIV-positive patients to begin taking antiretroviral drugs as soon as they are diagnosed, the New York Times reported.

Previous guidelines directed physicians to delay antiretroviral treatment, due to potential side effects.

The new policy follows research that early HIV treatment can help patients live longer and decrease their likelihood of experiencing health complications such as cancer, heart disease or kidney failure, the Times reported.

Under the new guidelines, people who test positive for HIV will be offered combination antiretroviral therapy. Antiretroviral drugs currently cost about $12,000 per year and account for about $350 million of the California AIDS Drug Assistance Plan’s budget, according to the Times story.



Gilead awards $5 million grant to HRC’s HIV and health equity programs

Money to support efforts to end the epidemic and combat stigma



Human Rights Campaign headquarters in D.C.(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Human Rights Campaign was awarded a $5 million grant from drugmaker Gilead Sciences to expand the organization’s HIV and health equity programs, supporting efforts to end the HIV epidemic by 2030 while combatting stigma in Black and Latino communities.

Funds will be used over the next three years for the HRC Foundation’s HIV and Health Equity Program, its Historically Black Colleges and Universities Program, and its Transgender Justice Initiative, HRC said in a statement Wednesday announcing receipt of the award, which extends Gilead’s $3.2 million grant to the HRC Foundation in 2021.

The organization said its HIV and Health Equity Program plans to develop a “benchmarking tool for institutions that provide HIV services, helping better evaluate the quality of care and measure racially and socially inclusive approaches” while defining “best practices, policies and procedures to optimize HIV service provision for BIPOC LGBTQ+ communities.”

HRC President Kelley Robinson said, “Since the beginning of the HIV epidemic, racism and anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination have created dangerous hurdles for those seeking prevention or treatment.”

“With the generous support of Gilead Sciences, we’ll be able to continue providing critical
resources to help overcome these hurdles, especially focusing on Black and Latine communities in the U.S. South,” Robinson added. “We’ll also be able to expand our efforts, as we seek to remove institutional barriers often unknowingly created by HIV service providers. We must decrease the disparities that place an unnecessary burden on Black and Latine LGBTQ+ people and people living with HIV.”

Gilead Executive Vice President of Corporate Affairs and General Counsel Deborah Telman said the company “is committed to advancing health equity, particularly in Black communities and other communities of color that are disproportionately affected by HIV.”

“This grant will build on the impactful work HRC has done with community partners and HBCUs to increase awareness of HIV treatment and prevention options and reduce health disparities, combat discrimination and fight stigma,” Telman said.

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New CDC data shows HIV infections dropped, but mostly among whites

Socioeconomic factor into disproportionate rates



Data published Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows a significant decline in new HIV infections, but suggests the impact of prevention efforts was far less substantial for Black and Latino populations.

From 2017-2021, as rates of HIV testing, treatment and the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medication rose, new cases dropped by 12 percent overall and by as much as 34 percent among gay and bisexual males aged 13-24.

The numbers show a “move in the right direction,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a press release.

However, when broken down by race, the CDC found new infections were down by 27 percent and 36 percent, respectively, among Black and Latino populations, compared with 45 percent of whites.

Similarly, by 2021 about one third of those who are considered eligible were taking PrEP for HIV prevention, but the CDC noted this number includes “relatively few Black people or Hispanic/Latino people” despite the significant increase in prescriptions up from just 13 percent in 2017.

“Longstanding factors, such as systemic inequities, social and economic marginalization and residential segregation,” Walensky noted, continue to act as barriers “between highly effective HIV treatment and prevention and people who could benefit from them.”

She added, “Efforts must be accelerated and strengthened for progress to reach all groups faster and equitably.”

Robyn Neblett Fanfair, acting director of the CDC’s Division of HIV Prevention, said that “At least three people in the U.S. get HIV every hour — at a time when we have more effective prevention and treatment options than ever before.”

“These tools must reach deep into communities and be delivered faster to expand progress from some groups to all groups,” she said.

The HIV+Hepatitis Policy Institute issued a press release following the CDC’s announcement of the new data, noting both the encouraging progress and need for improvement.

“It appears that our investments in HIV prevention are providing some positive results, but the persistent high number of new diagnoses and the low usage of PrEP among the communities most impacted by HIV point to the need for increased resources, particularly for a national PrEP program,” said the group’s executive director, Carl Schmid.

President Joe Biden’s FY24 budget requested $237 million for a national PrEP program along with $850 million to support the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ “Ending the HIV Epidemic in the U.S.” initiative.

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Officials eye mpox prevention, vaccination initiatives for this summer’s LGBTQ events

New cluster of cases reported in Chicago



Drs. Robert Fenton and Demetre Daskalakis, coordinator and deputy coordinator for the White House national mpox response, during a briefing in August 2022 (Official White House Photo by Cameron Smith)

Federal health agencies, in coordination with their state and local counterparts and community partners, are exploring opportunities to offer mpox prevention initiatives and vaccinations at LGBTQ events this summer, Dr. Demetre Daskalakis said on Thursday.

Daskalakis, the deputy coordinator for the White House’s national mpox response, described these deliberations in response to a question from the Washington Blade during a media telebriefing on mpox that was hosted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC on Monday issued a Health Alert Network Health Update on the potential risk for new mpox cases.

Since the peak of about 460 cases per day in August 2022, new cases have steadily declined, but following the cluster recently reported in the Chicago area, the update warns, “spring and summer season in 2023 could lead to a resurgence of mpox as people gather for festivals and other events.”

“We have the vaccine, and we have organizations that are willing to do it,” Daskalakis said during Thursday’s call, adding that resources are available and can be deployed flexibly because they are built into existing “HIV and STI funding to allow for this work.”

And the Mpox Crisis Response Cooperative Agreement, Daskalakis said, “provides even more resources locally for such efforts.”

Daskalakis and CDC Mpox Response Incident Manager Dr. Christopher R. Braden also briefed reporters on findings from new studies on the efficacy of the JYNNEOS vaccine for the prevention of mpox.

That data, per the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, reveals that “Among gay, bisexual, and other MSM and transgender adults aged 18-49 years, two doses of the JYNNEOS vaccine were 86 percent effective against mpox, indicating substantial protection against mpox.”

Additionally, “All routes of vaccine administration provided similar protection.”

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