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Gray: D.C. has “come a long way” in fight against HIV

The mayor spoke at the AIDS Memorial Quilt’s opening ceremony on Sunday



Gay News, Washington Blade, HIV/AIDS

Mayor Vincent Gray at the AIDS Memorial Quilt (Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Mayor Vincent Gray stressed during the AIDS Memorial Quilt’s opening ceremony on the National Mall on Sunday that D.C. continues to make progress in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

“We’ve come a long way,” he said. “We have come a mighty distance in being able to tackle the challenges associated with the infection and associated with AIDS.”

Roughly 20,000 D.C. residents have been diagnosed with HIV—and more than 10,000 Washingtonians have died from AIDS—since the city’s first known case in 1983. The Department of Health’s latest epidemiological report indicates that 2.7 percent of D.C. residents were living with the virus at the end of 2010. New HIV diagnoses dropped 36 percent among white D.C. residents and 24 percent among black Washingtonians between 2006 and 2010.

Gray noted that the city has distributed more than five million male and female condoms in 2011. He also credited Washington’s needle exchange program for a 72 percent drop in HIV rates among intravenous drug users between 2007 and 2010. The mayor further pointed out that no baby has been born with HIV in D.C. since 2009.

City officials last month also unveiled a new campaign to encourage testing among D.C. employees.

“That’s wonderful progress, but we also know we have a long ways to go,” said Gray. “The struggle is bigger than this great city. Of course today it is a global epidemic and of course it is an issue of social justice and an issue of equality. As I look out on the faces before me today, I hope all of us feel the urgency of the global struggle. As you all cast your eyes upon this beautiful quilt, I hope that it will be a reminder — it will be an effort once again to renew our commitment to fight the decades of prejudice and raise awareness and lead our community — especially this week during the international conference to once and for all end this epidemic.”

The mayor spoke hours before he is scheduled to join Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius, California Congresswoman Barbara Lee and others at the opening of the International AIDS Conference at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

The NAMES Project is slated to unfold more than 35,000 panels on the Mall through Wednesday. Portions of the quilt will remain on display in the Wilson Building and more than 50 other locations throughout the D.C. metropolitan area throughout the conference.

DOH interim director Dr. Saul Levin; Dr. Gregory Pappas, director of the agency’s HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Disease and Tuberculosis Administration; former Mayor Sharon Pratt Kelly, Frank Oldham, president of the National Association of People With AIDS and Lee were among those who joined Gray on the Mall. NAPWA also honored him and Whitman Walker Health for his work to combat the epidemic in the nation’s capital.

Gray also read the names of friends who succumbed to the virus: HIV/AIDS activist Melvin Boozer, with whom he went to high school, San Francisco physician Harvey Thompson and former Redskins receiver Jerry Smith.

“Let us remember them today,” said Gray. “Let us use this week to renew our resolve to once and for all eliminate the infection and to eliminate this dreaded disease from our society so we can move on and make sure everybody has the opportunity to lead the good life.”
























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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FDA finalizes new blood donation guidelines

‘A significant milestone for the agency and the LGBTQI+ community’



Photo Credit: American Red Cross

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Thursday finalized new guidelines for blood donation that will use a uniform individualized risk assessment questionnaire for respondents regardless of their sexual orientation, sex, or gender.

The move, which brings U.S. policy in line with procedures used in countries like Canada and the United Kingdom, marks a significant departure from longstanding bans targeting gay and bisexual men who have sex with men that were gradually eased over the decades since the AIDS epidemic.

“The implementation of these recommendations will represent a significant milestone for the agency and the LGBTQI+ community,” said Peter Marks, director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research, in a press release issued by the agency.

“The FDA is committed to working closely with the blood collection industry to help ensure timely implementation of the new recommendations and we will continue to monitor the safety of the blood supply once this individual risk-based approach is in place.”

Under the new guidelines, prospective donors who have had a new sexual partner, or more than one sexual partner in the past three months, and anal sex in the past three months, would be ineligible.

So would those who are “taking medications to treat or prevent HIV infection (e.g., antiretroviral therapy (ART), pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP),” because these drugs can delay the detection of HIV.

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