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Obama mentions black gay men in World AIDS Day speech

President announces hike In AIDS drug assistance program

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President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama renewed the goal to eliminate AIDS forever. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

With an international audience watching through a live Internet broadcast, President Barack Obama included mention of the high HIV infection rate among black gay men in the United States in a World AIDS Day speech on Thursday at George Washington University.

“Today is a remarkable day,” he said. “Today we come together as a global community, across continents, across faiths and cultures, to renew our commitment to ending the AIDS pandemic once and for all.

“But the fight is not over – not by a long shot,” he said. “The rate of new infections may be going down elsewhere, but it’s not going down here in America. The infection rate here has been holding steady for over a decade.”

He added, “When new infections among young black gay men increase by nearly 50 percent in 3 years, we need to do more to show them that their lives matter.”

The president spoke at an internationally broadcast World AIDS Day event sponsored by ONE, a global grassroots organization dedicated to fighting poverty and disease; and (RED), an organization of businesses and corporations that raises money for the United Nations Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.

Joining Obama at the event through a satellite hookup was former President George W. Bush, who spoke from Tanzania, African, along with Tanzanian President Jakaya Mrisho Kikwete; and former President Bill Clinton, who also spoke via satellite transmission.

The gathering in Washington took place in an auditorium on the George Washington University campus a few blocks from the White House.

Alicia Keys and Bono

Alicia Keys and Bono joined President Obama in addressing how to end AIDS on World AIDS Day this year. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

After Obama spoke, CNN medical editor and physician Sanjay Gupta moderated a panel discussion that included U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (R-Fla.); Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.); lead singer of the rock group U2 Bono, who co-founded the groups ONE and (RED); and artist and co-founder of the group Keep the Children Alive, Alicia Keys.

Also speaking on the panel were Dr. Patricia Nkansah-Asamoah, director of the PTCT Clinic at Tema Hospital in Accra, Ghana; Florence Ngobeni, HIV educator and Ambassador for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation; and Elizabeth K. “Kay” Warren, founder of the HIV & AIDS Initiative of Saddleback Church, and wife of well-known pastor, Rick Warren.

The panelists, including Rubio and Lee, who often are at odds with each other on partisan political matters, each pledged to work cooperatively in a bipartisan fashion to seek an end to the AIDS epidemic.

Bush and Clinton expressed praise for one another on the AIDS front. And Clinton and Obama each praised Bush for starting the highly acclaimed U.S. global AIDS assistance program known as PEPFAR, the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief. The program, under Bush and now under Obama, has been credited with saving the lives of millions of HIV infected people in Africa by providing the financing and delivery of life-saving AIDS drugs to countries that can’t afford the drugs.

Sanjay Gupta

Dr. Sanjay Gupta moderated the World AIDS Day panel. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Obama announced in his speech that his administration is “committing an additional $15 million for the Ryan White program that supports care provided by HIV medical clinics across the country.” He said he was also committing an additional $35 million for the AIDS Drug Assistance Program, or ADAP, a part of the Ryan White CARE Act that helps states pay for AIDS drugs for patients who don’t have medical insurance or whose insurance is insufficient to pay for the drugs.

“The federal government can’t do this alone,” he said in discussing the ADAP program. “So I’m also calling on state governments, and pharmaceutical companies, and private foundations to do their part to help Americans geet access to all the life-saving treatments.”

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Health

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

Money to support efforts to end the epidemic and combat stigma

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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

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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

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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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