Activists blame ‘complacent’ CDC for new HIV crisis

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A coalition of LGBT activists blistered federal health officials on Tuesday, saying HIV prevention efforts are falling short and fueling a second AIDS epidemic taking its toll on gay men, transgender people and men of color.

The group issued its stinging criticism a day after meeting with top officials from the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, including Jonathan Mermin, director of the National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD & TB prevention. The activists delivered a 10-point plan of action, called the Atlanta Principles, and say they will push for action from the federal health agency.

But they weren't encouraged.

"I left the meeting yesterday speechlessly perturbed," says Cheryl Courtney-Evans (photo), who runs Transgender Individuals Living Their Truth in Atlanta. "I felt like the one or two people who spoke were rationalizing why we weren't any further than we are now."

The coalition of HIV groups on Tuesday included the New York-based ACT UP and Treatment Action Group, along with AID Atlanta, National AIDS & Education Services for Minorities, Atlanta Harm Reduction Coalition, SisterLove and TILTT. They called on the CDC to take 10 steps to improve HIV prevention efforts:

* Introduce sexually frank HIV prevention messaging and work with communities impacted by HIV to produce prevention materials.

* Treat people with HIV as a way to prevent new infections and launch a national campaign to educate people that treatment for HIV could make viral loads undetectable and greatly reduce the chance of transmission.

* Expand education efforts for pharmaceutical prophylaxes and design campaigns to educate populations impacted by HIV about the potential of the pre- and post-exposure drugs to combat HIV.

* Expand HIV prevention efforts targeting populations at highest risk, including men who have sex with men, and boost local prevention efforts.

* Revise HIV testing guidelines that currently call for yearly testing for key populations and expand testing sites to include dental and mental health offices.

* Improve research and data collection to better reflect HIV infections among transgender women, sex workers and young gay men.

* Reform National HIV Behavioral Surveillance to take into account flaws pointed out by local health departments to better understand how HIV is spread.

* Create sex education materials and an HIV curriculum for students free of prejudice and speaks frankly about queer sex without language that stigmatizes LGBT youth.

* Include seniors and women living with HIV in studies to help improve care.

* Partner with local HIV organizations to help prevent HIV and link people with HIV to care and a wider net of services.

Dazon Dixon Diallo, president and CEO of SisterLove, called on the CDC to make Atlanta an example of improved HIV prevention and outreach efforts, arguing that implementing the Atlanta Principles in its own background could make the region "a beacon" on how to improve prevention and care to the hardest-to-reach populations, including transgender women and young gay men of color.

"They and we must have and use more, better, faster strategies, actions and resources to stop the virus from taking our people, to rescue our HIV POWs with the care, treatment and respect that they deserve," Dixon Diallo said.

The CDC said that the agency is engaged in a wide range of prevention initiatives and that the issues raised by the HIV activists "are priorities for us."

"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," Kenneth Castro, acting director of the CDC's Division of HIV/AIDS, said in an email statement. “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.”

Castro added that the CDC recently issued guidelines for the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis and offered prevention efforts aimed at gay and bisexual men for about post-exposure prophylaxis. The agency has also made strides in improving its HIV data collection for high-risk populations, including gay and bisexual men, and transgender people, he said.

The press conference offered a range of emotional statements, stinging criticism of CDC prevention efforts and ideas on how to improve HIV care and research.

Craig Washington, AID Atlanta



Cheryl Courtney-Evans, TILTT



Dazon Dixon Diallo, SisterLove



Adolph Arromand, NAESM



Jeremiah Johnson, Treatment Action Group



James Krellenstein, ACT UP/NY



Jim Elgo, ACT UP/NY



Matthew Rodriguez, ACT UP/NY



Terri Wilder, ACT UP/NY



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