Amid troubling statistics, a team of HIV/AIDS activists from New York teamed with Atlanta activists to call out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention today on their strategies and sense of urgency.
“There is an HIV prevention emergency in the United States today,” said Jim Eigo of ACT UP/NY. “But you won’t hear any of the federal officials who have been charged with managing this epidemic issuing a call to action anytime soon.”
Representatives from ACT UP/NY and Treatment Action Group, along with Atlanta groups TILTT, SisterLove and Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition met with the CDC’s HIV prevention personnel on June 9 to discuss their concerns and present the “Atlanta Principles,” a series of proposed actions they say the CDC should take.
While the number of new cases of HIV in the U.S. has held steady for the past decade at 50,000 per year, new cases of HIV among gay and bisexual men and transgender women has spiked, according to local and national studies. More troubling here at home, a recent study shows that 12 percent of Atlanta’s young gay black men are contracting HIV every year.
While saying they were received cordially, it was clear the groups were left with concerns, as they discussed in today’s press conference at the Embassy Suites at Centennial Park.
The most frequent criticisms were about the CDC’s efforts at promoting newer prevention options and the lack of representation of the transgender community in HIV/AIDS statistics.
The specific HIV prevention options the groups want the CDC to promote more aggressively include:
Treatment as Prevention (TasP): For those infected with HIV, sustaining an undetectable viral load will greatly reduce the chances of transmitting the virus to others.
Truvada: This medication can be taken once daily as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) to prevent HIV in negative people at risk.
Post-Exposure Prophylaxis (PEP): If exposed to HIV, taking anti-HIV medications as soon as possible (within 72 hours) after the fact can reduce the chances of infection.
“If there was one overwhelming feeling and message that we got from the CDC was a total sort of indifference,” said James Krellenstein of ACT UP/NY. “A total sort of business as usual approach to HIV prevention. But we know for a fact that business as usual is not cutting it.”
Jeremiah Johnson of New York-based Treatment Action Group concurred, calling the CDC’s overall momentum in tackling the disease “slow” and “plodding.”
It also was not lost on the HIV/AIDS activists that the CDC is based where a very troubling number of new HIV infections have occurred.
“If they cannot get it right in Atlanta, how can the country expect them to get it right anywhere else?” said Dazon Dixon Diallo of SisterLove.
But the most passionate comments came regarding the transgender community’s representation in HIV/AIDS statistics.
“Every involved stakeholder must be addressed,” said Cheryl Courtney-Evans of transgender rights group TILTT, who became emotional discussing the transgender friends she’s lost to the disease. “We’ve been invisibly dying.”
Mathew Rodriguez of ACT UP/NY spoke up for young gay men of color, saying the outreach to his community and the embrace of proven means of HIV prevention has been disappointing.
“If the CDC were to implement HIV interventions that were accessible to young gay men of color, it would treat us as sexual, healthy beings and with dignity,” Rodriguez said. “It might promote a narrative of hope that counters a narrative of inevitability.”
The activists left the CDC with a copy of the “Atlanta Principles” to review and they will be following up with the organization with action steps and requests for a follow-up meeting.
The GA Voice has reached out to the CDC for comment and is awaiting a response.
1. Click here to view The Atlanta Principles document that was presented to the CDC on June 9.
2. The CDC has responded to GA Voice’s request for comment. From Kenneth G. Castro, MD, acting director of the Division of HIV/AIDS Prevention at the CDC:
CDC shares the community’s enthusiasm for moving HIV prevention efforts forward and addressing urgent concerns about the state of HIV among gay and bisexual men.
These are issues that are priorities for us and we are engaged in a wide range of prevention initiatives to address these topics.
CDC recently issued comprehensive, national guidance on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for people at substantial risk for infection. Additionally, CDC is also implementing a wide range of prevention educational efforts to equip high-risk individuals, including gay and bisexual men, and those who care for them with accurate information about prevention options such as PrEP, post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) and treatment as prevention. CDC’s recently-launched ‘Start Talking. Stop HIV’ communication campaign for gay and bisexual men acknowledges the increasingly complex prevention landscape and the need to consider biomedical and behavioral options that best fit a person’s circumstances in both the promotional materials and the more detailed web content. CDC has also implemented a range of surveillance and research efforts aimed at leveraging recent advances in HIV treatment and care and improving the quality of HIV data collection for high-risk populations, including gay and bisexual men and transgender individuals.
We’re glad to see the community’s commitment to advancing HIV prevention and look forward to continuing to engage on these issues and leverage our collective strengths to bring about greater progress.