Birth Control, health care, HIV Awareness, reproductive rights

April is STD Awareness Month… Here are some things you should know

            In case you didn’t know, April is National STD Awareness month. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) press release announcing this points out that although young people account for approximately 25% of the sexually active populations, people aged 15-24 account for nearly half of all new cases of STD’s/STI’s. This is a disproportionate number to say the least.

            Young people are not the only group that needs to worry about STD/STI’s. According to a news report on CBSNews.com STD/STI rates among seniors have doubled over the past decade. Though there are likely a number of factors causing this increase, the article points out the widespread availability of Viagra and similar drugs that enable sexual activity at older ages as a major contributing factor.

Most people think that they will have symptoms if they are infected with an STD/STI. In some cases this is true; a few STD’s do have very noticeable and sometimes painful symptoms. For example, herpes sores can be quite painful, especially the first time you have one. Other STD’s/STI’s might cause pain during sex or urination and off color discharge from the genitals. Most of the time though STD/STI’s are symptom-less; unless you are tested for them there is no real way to know if you have one. Check out these fact sheets from the CDC, they give symptom and treatment information for the most commons STD/STI’s in theU.S.

It is important that EVERYONE get tested regularly if they are sexually active. STD/STI’s can be transmitted through intercourse, oral sex and anal sex. If you are sexually active, it is important to protect yourself and your future partners. Here are some things you can do to limit your exposure to STD/STI’s. Remember to use a condom every time, even if you are using another form of birth control. Other forms of birth control do not decrease risk of STD/STI’s. Use dental dams or a condom when performing oral sex. Using protection whenever you engage in sexual activity will greatly decrease your chances of contracting or spreading any infections.

Some people may be worried about getting tested because of the social stigma attached to STD/STI’s in our culture; but having an STD/STI doesn’t have to be a life changing event. Most are curable; those that aren’t like herpes can be treated and made manageable. Even HIV/AIDS is no longer a death sentence if you are diagnosed early enough. New studies show that the earlier you begin treatment for HIV/AIDS the longer  life span you will have and the less likely you are to spread it to some one else.

            To treat any STD/STI’s and to prevent spreading to others, you have to know you have one, so get yourself tested regularly and often. Contact your local health care provider or use the widget below to find a testing facility near you.

http://www.cdcnpin.org/GYTWidgets/GYTWidget.aspx

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HIV Awareness, Immunizations

HIV Vaccine

In light of the Holiday season and coming New Year we wanted to bring some positive news in this post. In today’s poor economy with near constant attacks on reproductive rights it can sometimes be overwhelming to work in a reproductive health atmosphere. Because of that we wanted to end this week on a more positive note. The US FDA has approved an HIV vaccine SAV001 for human testing starting in January 2012.A few other possible vaccines have already started the human testing phase but Dr. Chil-Yong Kang and his team of researchers doing something quite different with their vaccine and it could prove to be a very fruitful difference.

Up until now, potential vaccines have used fragments in the development of the vaccine. Though vaccines of this nature have proven effective against certain diseases, so far none have been successful at protecting against HIV. Dr. Kang is doing something very different. He went back to the very beginning of vaccination, when scientists used the whole virus and used chemicals and radiation to kill it. This method is how polio was eradicated. So far, no scientists have attempted this method to combat HIV though.

During the toxicology testing phase, the medication proved to have no severe side effects so they can now begin phase 1 of human testing. This phase will include a very small sample of about 40 people              who are already HIV positive for safety. Then they will move on the phase 2 which will have about 600 HIV negative people who are at high risk for transmission such as intravenous drug users. Phase 3 will have a control group and a vaccinated group and will have about 6000 subjects. Following phase 3 researchers will be able to tell whether SAV001 effectively prevents HIV transmission or not. Dr. Kang says if all goes well the vaccine could be on the market in as few as 5 years.

While an effective vaccine is not a cure for HIV/AIDS, it is a huge step towards eradicating transmission and would give hope to the millions of people who are at high risk due to parents or partners having HIV.  During times like this it is always nice to read about such promising steps forward in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Hopefully one day, scientist will be able to find not only an effective vaccine, but a cure for those already infected.

 

Abortion Rights, Government Policy, reproductive rights

Appropriations Bill Passes

               Congress passed the 2012 Appropriations Omnibus. On the one hand this is good and it determines the budget for 2012 and budgets are important. During negotiations Republicans wanted to demolish the family planning as well as all grants to Planned Parenthood. They also wanted to require all grants for sex education programs go to abstinence only programs. The Democrats were able to block these measures, but a few slipped in that are incredibly troublesome from a reproductive health standpoint.

                First is that the bill contained a provisions which bans the Washington D.C. from using its own local funds to help low-income women pay for abortions. The Mayor of D.C. along with other city politicians were actually arrested protesting a temporary ban that was already in place. D.C.’s nonvoting representative Eleanor Holmes Norton released a statement lambasting the hypocrisy of congress. In it she states “We will never be satisfied as long as there is a single prohibition on D.C.’s use of its local funds… It is especially ironic that the final sticking point in the negotiations on the conference report was how to promote democracy in Cuba while the bill tramples on democracy in the ‘capital of the free world’ with a rider keeping its residents from spending their own local funds on abortion services for low-income women.”

                Another disheartening policy rider included in the bill is a ban on using federal funds to support needle exchange programs. These programs have been proven effective at preventing HIV and Hepatitis C transmission in intravenous drug users as well as their spouses and children. These programs benefit more than just the people using the needles, but apparently Congress decided that drug users and their families are not worthy of protection.

                Of course if we look at a third feature of the bill, it makes you wonder if maybe Congress just doesn’t care about reducing HIV/AIDS transmission at all. Another part of the bill cuts 25% of the CDC’s budget for the Division of Adolescent and School Health, specifically to their HIV/STD prevention program. According to a SIECUS press release “For more than two decades, DASH has effectively worked with schools across the country to provide an evidence-based and data driven approach to school health education, including sex education for the prevention of HIV, other STDs, and unintended pregnancy. Research has shown that school health programs can reduce the prevalence of health risk behaviors among young people, have a positive effect on academic performance, and are cost effective.” Meanwhile, another part of the bill adds funding to abstinence only sex education programs which have been proven ineffective numerous times.

                So yes, it’s good that the bill passed and it clearly could have been a lot worse. That doesn’t mean I’m not left wondering when the health of American’s became a political bargaining chip.

health care, HIV Awareness

World AIDS Day 2011

                Today is World AIDS Day and the internet is blowing up with stories about people impacted by HIV/AIDS, articles about how we can help prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS, calls to action to help people already infected and even lists of products that will help support HIV/AIDS research.  Though HIV/AIDS awareness should not be a once year a thing, it is always good to help increase exposure and to help educate people about the issue. Here are the highlights of what people are talking about:

                A few weeks ago Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced a new initiative of PEPFAR (the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief) to eliminate mother-to-child transmission of HIV by 2015. This included $60 million in funding for HIV/AIDS groups worldwide. Today, President Obama committed an additional $50 million in funding for domestic HIV/AIDS groups. This includes $15 million to the Ryan White program which funds clinics and $35 million for state AIDS Drug Assistance Programs. Between the two that’s $110 million extra funding to help eliminate HIV/AIDS. Way to go U.S. government!

                The Hill and The Huffington Post both address the importance of combating the social stigma against people with HIV/AIDS. They point out how important it is to remember HIV/AIDS is a disease affecting a person not a person’s entire identity. At The Huffington Post, the article is written by Elton John who expresses his hope that by continuing to support HIV/AIDS research and combating the stigma around HIV/AIDS and reminding those who have it that their lives are still valuable and worth living; his son will live to see a world free from HIV/AIDS. Even former President George W. Bush got in on the action writing an op-ed for the Wall Street Journal about the importance of continuing to fund HIV/AIDS research.

                As we pointed out last week, globally the rate of new HIV infections has been dropping as have AIDS related deaths. Clearly we are moving in the right direction. With that in mind it is important to not get ahead of ourselves and start thinking the “war” is over. Now more than ever it is important to remember that unless we continue to fund HIV/AIDS programs all that progress will be lost and a cure will never be found.

                Most importantly it is vitally important that you always, always remember to protect yourself. Use condoms with every new partner and get tested regularly. Early treatment is the most effective way to ensure HIV/AIDS has a minimal impact on your life and the lives of the people who care about you. Until everyone is able to and does take responsibility for their sexual health we will never really see HIV/AIDS eradicated. To find a testing center near you check here.  Find treatment centers and places for housing assistance here if you need it.

HIV Awareness, reproductive rights

AIDS/HIV Rates

                In honor of Thanksgiving we will be doing a “things we’re grateful for” theme. A bit cliché perhaps, but still fun and season appropriate. The first thing we are grateful for is one that while definitely stemming from a huge ugly rainstorm, has an equally huge silver lining. According to a new UN AIDS program (UNAIDS) report worldwide rates of new HIV infections are dropping, as are rates of AIDS related deaths.

                According to a report on dw-world.de the new infections rate dropped to 2.67 million cases last year. This is 21% lower than the rate of new infections in 1997, when the AIDS epidemic was at an all time high. In India the rate dropped 56% since 1996 and in southern Africa, where HIV and AIDS have hit hardest, the rate of new infections dropped by 26%.

                On top of that the number of AIDS related deaths dropped from 2.2 million in the mid-200’s to 1.8 million in 2010. According to a Fox News report on the decline UNAIDS director Michel Sidibe has this to say “Even in this time of public finance crises and uncertainty about funding, we’re seeing results. We are seeing more countries than ever before (achieving) significant reductions in new infections and stabilizing their epidemics.” And that it has been a “game changing year.”

            According to this same article, one of the primary reasons for this is that more people than ever have been getting the treatments needed to stay healthy. 47% of eligible people in low to middle- income countries are getting treatment and in just one year 1.4 million people were added to the amount of people getting treatment.

            These reports come shortly after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the U.S. commitment to provide $60 million in additional funding to HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment programs worldwide. While HIV and AIDS are still at epidemic levels throughout the world, these numbers are indicators that we may be at a precipice in turning towards ending it. So while the underlying issue is still one of tragedy, these new reports provide hope that someday soon we may be able to end the global epidemic and provide real care to all 34 million who are already infected. That is why we are grateful to all the people who donate their time and money to helping those living with HIV and AIDS.

children's health, Government Policy, health care, HIV Awareness

AIDS-Free Generation

Last week Secretary of State Hillary Clinton held a press conference at the National Institutes of Health to announce an update to the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PERFAR). Her announcement included calls to create an “AIDS-Free Generation” by reducing transmission rates overall and creating new and better ways to treat those already infected.

Reducing mother-to-child transmission rates was the only goal to be given a completion date, 2015. The primary goal of this initiative is to reduce mother to child transmission rates to 0. This can be done by ensuring pregnant and nursing women get proper treatment with retroviral medication. According to her speech, this method prevented over 114,000 mother-to-child transmissions. At present, 1 in 7 new transmissions is mother to child, so by ensuring pregnant and nursing people get treatment this number can be reduced.

The initiative also includes provisions to limit transmission rates by encouraging voluntary male circumcision. Studies show that a man who has been circumcised is more than 60% less likely to pass HIV to a female partner. Male circumcision can sometimes be a hot button topic, but encouraging a man who is HIV positive to get circumcised is clearly in the best interest of ensuring he doesn’t infect future partners. The third part of the initiative is one we have already mentioned here; the fact that treating an already infected person reduces the risk of transmission by 96%. To ensure these goals get met the White House is partnering with various health agencies and governments throughout the world to implement strategies to best fit the needs of the communities in those countries. Secretary Clinton also announced $60 million in funding for these initiatives.

According to an article at The Huffington Post, these methods can and will be effective at driving down transmission rates; especially when combined with traditional methods of decreasing transmission such as condom use and proactive testing:

“Mathematical models show that scaling up combination prevention to realistic levels using these three core interventions in high-prevalence countries would drive down the global rate of new infection by at least 40 to 60 percent. That is on top of the 25 percent drop we have already seen in the past decade. Moreover, by implementing this core package along with other effective interventions, such as condoms, HIV testing and counseling, legal reform, programs to reduce stigma and discrimination, and the behavioral supports needed for all successful efforts, we can maximize the total impact.”

They are also reaching out to raise awareness through pop culture. During her speech, Secretary Clinton announced the recruitment of daytime talk show host Ellen DeGeneres as the Special Envoy for Global AIDS Awareness.  DeGeneres has a wildly popular TV show along with a massive social media following with 5.8 million Facebook fans and 8 million Twitter followers. She is an advocate for raising awareness.

With World AIDS Day coming up on December 1st many are expecting more news from the White House in regards to current and future AIDS related initiatives.

health care, HIV Awareness, reproductive rights

Breakthrough in preventing HIV and Herpes

Big news on the STD prevention front was recently released. Last year scientist announced the results from a study done in South Africa on the effectiveness of a gel designed to inhibit the spread of HIV. The gel, which contains the active ingredient tenofovir, reduces transmission rates of HIV up to 39% with typical use and up to 54% with consistent use. Scientists and AIDS prevention advocates are excited about the implications this could have because the gel is the first prevention tool that can be used directly by the woman. Condoms and sexual monogamy on the part of her partner are often outside a woman’s control so this gel gives women a way to be in charge of their own risk.

The gel has even more implications that just HIV reductions. The researchers also found that the gel reduced transmission of herpes by 51% with typical use and 62% with consistent use. The herpes virus, while in and of itself is not deadly. It is however highly stigmatized in the U.S. in spite of its prevalence; 21% of all sexually active women in the U.S. have it. One of the primary symptoms of herpes is the creation of open blisters in the genital region. These blisters make transmission on HIV easier than if no sores were present. This gel can help prevent both of these diseases.

When the study was initially released, scientist were unsure of why the gel blocked herpes, they only knew that it did. They undertook a study to further explore their results and recently released their findings. The tenofovir in the gel, when it enters human tissue, blocks the creation of an enzyme that allows the herpes virus to flourish which makes it harder for the virus to actually infect a person who has used the gel. The gel also prolonged the life of lab mice that had been infected with the herpes virus.

As of now the gel is not in testing for U.S. approval but based on the results of the study manufacturer of the gel, Gilead, is considering the possibility of marketing to the U.S. They will have to spend millions of dollars on the approval process first and even if they started right away say it will take a few years before they are ready to present to the FDA but given its effectiveness it may be worth the time and money.