Monday, December 1, 2008

Nine most important AIDS stories of 2008

(H/T - Allison Steinberg,

Today, Dec. 1, is the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day, an international day of reflection around the epidemic, which is still uncured.

About 33 million worldwide have HIV - thousands remain unaware that they have the virus.

Worldwide, World AIDS Day is marked by conferences, sporting events, galas, and grassroots and government-sponsored outreach programs - we remember it with our annual list of the most important HIV/AIDS stories of the year.

As the World AIDS Campaign announced, “whilst we have come a long ways since 1988, there is still much more to be done.”

1. International AIDS Conference in Mexico City
The 17th annual International AIDS conference convened in Mexico City this past August.

More than 23,000 prominent figures in the plight towards AIDS research, treatment, education, and awareness gathered in Mexico City in August to share their findings from the past year.

The attendees addressed worldwide issues from women and children with AIDS, to HIV and transgender persons, prisoners, and refugees.

AIDS 2008 International Chair and IAS President Dr. Pedro Cahn declared in his closing speech that, “this conference has given out a message of hope for all people living with HIV and AIDS.”

2. CDC reports AIDS spreading faster than anticipated
Also in August, a special HIV/AIDS issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association published its findings on estimates for new HIV infections in the United States.

The latest report, which compiled data from 2002-2006, showed that prior estimates of new infections were low.

The rate by which new viruses are spreading is actually 40 percent higher than previously believed, representing about 56,000 new cases of HIV in 2006.

The article noted that people in their 30s accounted for the most new infections and that 73 percent were men. The report also found that men who have sex with men represented 53 percent of all new cases.

3. Part of the U.S. HIV travel ban lifted

Congress voted in July to expand PEPFAR, the Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, to provide an additional $48 billion dollars for the fight against AIDS, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa.

Perhaps even more poignantly, the bill also repealed the part of the travel ban preventing the free movement of HIV-positive people into the U.S. for 20 years.

In a radio address on July 26, President Bush spoke to the nation about the new legislation, declaring that, “fighting disease is one part of America’s larger commitment to help struggling nations build more hopeful futures of freedom.”

4. Call for a national AIDS strategy
More than 100 organizations from around the country have banded together to press President-elect Barack Obama to formulate a comprehensive national policy to address the AIDS crisis.

Krishna Stone, spokeswoman for the Gay Men’s Health Crisis (GMHC), believes that this coming together of forces is due to a growing “let’s look at what’s going on in our own backyard” mentality, instead of focusing all strategy on Africa.

The U.S. to date has no national strategy for fighting AIDS here at home.

6. Bono joins Starbucks to help AIDS victims
U2 star Bono made a surprise visit to a Starbucks managerial meeting this past October - surprising even his band members - as part of his continued efforts to raise money for The Global Fund, which provides support to help fight AIDS and other illnesses.

Starting in January 2009, the peppermint mocha twist, gingersnap latte, and espresso truffle will all be “red” beverages, with some of the profits allocated to help purchase anti-retroviral drugs and other necessities for those lacking the means to access proper HIV treatment.

7. Rapid HIV testing in an ER boosts diagnoses, screening
The Emergency Department at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit conducted a study with alarming results.

They found that one in 50 people screened with new rapid-test HIV equipment were positive.

Researchers hope to inspire others to do HIV screening in their emergency departments, saying that this method, which is not widely practiced, will expose cases that would otherwise remain unknown.

Indira Brar, M.D., lead author of the study, reported, “we know that people are more likely to modify risk behaviors and less likely to transmit or acquire infection if they know whether they are HIV positive or not. By offering more testing resources, as our study reflected, we can boost ways to diagnose infections and accelerate progress in reducing the HIV epidemic.”

8. Nobel Prize for Medicine awarded to discoverers of HIV
Francoise Barre-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier were awarded the 2008 Nobel Prize in medicine this October for discovering the HIV virus.

The two French scientists uncovered the virus in 1981 by studying lymph nodes from patients with similar symptoms. They were able to isolate viral cells by 1984. AIDS now affects an estimated 1% of the global population.

The award was shared with Harald zur Hausen, who discovered HPV.

9. Internet-based “living” AIDS quilt launched in New Orleans
A virtual, interactive “living quilt” was launched on the web recently in an attempt to increase awareness around the spread of AIDS among women, particularly minorities, in the South.

Two New Orleans-based groups - the Southern AIDS Coalition and the National Minority Quality Forum’s Test for Life campaign - headed up this effort to “empower, encourage, and educate.”

The quilt has different images of different women, including patients, doctors, assistants, and related others from the community. Visitors to the site can click on each image to read more about the person and watch a video about her individual story.

10. Doctors say marrow transplant may have cured AIDS
A 42-year old man living with AIDS underwent a bone marrow transplant normally used to treat cancer that may have rendered his HIV positive status negative.

The patient, an American taking up residence in Berlin, had been living with the disease for 10 years when he agreed to try this aggressive treatment option. He stopped taking his normal medications and was subject to intense radiation to kill infected cells in his bone marrow- a procedure that kills 20-30% of patients- after which they replaced his virus-ridden bone marrow with the 1 in 62 marrow that has tested HIV-resistant.

It’s not certain whether the virus will come back, but he’s tested negative for 20 months now and doctors are hopeful that he will remain virus-free.

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