Bluma Appel, the fabulous hat-wearing founder of the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research, the northern equivalent of amFAR, died yesterday in Toronto. The Starsays she was 87 while the Globe said she was 86! “She was somebody who was very intolerant of complacency,” the director of the Royal Ontario Museum, one of the beneficiaries of her largesse, noted. “She was famous for just tracking everybody down she thought could help her causes and just relentlessly coming over and insisting they become involved.”
Archived entries for HIV/AIDS
From Maisonneuve MediaScout, the daily round-up of Canadian news, “researchers at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS suggest that the widespread use of drugs that prevent the progression of HIV could potentially ‘wipe out’ the disease by making it less infectious. The centre’s report claims the strategy could reduce the number of cases by some 98 percent in a mere forty-five years, writes the Ottawa Citizen. In an interview with CTV News, lead researcher Dr. Julio Montaner suggested the radical strategy is not ‘a replacement for the prevention effort—including vaccine research—but rather [is] an essential part of it.’ According to CTV News, the cost of treating all the world’s HIV infections according to Montaner’s model would be in the $15-billion range.” Full story from CTV
According to today’s papers: “A leading Canadian AIDS researcher and doctor says he is ‘morally outraged’ that Health Canada has approved more than 21,000 requests for silicone breast implants but continues to deny patients with advanced HIV access to potentially life-saving drugs.”
“With all due respect for women who need breast implants, I think that nobody can deny that emergency access to anti-retroviral therapy for people with advanced disease may be a bit of a priority over and above the accessing of these silicone implants,” Dr. Julio Montaner said.
Last weekend I was at the Cafe, a bar on in San Francisco, when I was reminded of a New York Times article (“With Fears Fading, More Gays Spurn Old Preventive Message”) from five years ago that was about the AIDS epidemic, and that quoted young men at that same bar. I did a bit of Googling and found the article, which is one of the best I’ve ever read. In fact, the piece was so stirring that it was the impetus for my controversial senior thesis.
It’s an amazing piece of journalism that is scary and heartbreaking but ultimately incredibly honest. It caused a firestorm of controversy for Seth Watkins, a San Francisco HIV prevention educator who was featured in the piece and who, despite his profession, admitted to having unprotected sex and becoming HIV-positive.
Mr. Watkins, 24, is an H.I.V. prevention educator and counselor in San Francisco. He knows how H.I.V. is transmitted and how to avoid becoming infected. But like an increasing number of gay men in San Francisco and elsewhere, Mr. Watkins sometimes still puts himself and possibly other people at risk. ”I don’t like to think about it because I don’t want to give anyone H.I.V.,” Mr. Watkins said. Yet his lapses also do not draw the concern and censure from his peers that they might have even a few years ago. READ ON
The head of AIDS research at the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Edmund Tramont, said he believes drug companies have no incentive to create a vaccine for HIV and are instead waiting to profit after the government develops one.
“If we look at the vaccine, HIV vaccine, we’re going to have an HIV vaccine. It’s not going to be made by a company,” Tramont said. “They’re dropping out like flies because there’s no real incentive for them to do it. We have to do it.”
“They will eventually — if it works, they won’t have to make that big investment. And they can make it and sell it and make a profit,” he said.
• Officials in San Francisco and New York say the new quick-action oral-swab HIV test is producing too many false-positive results. Concerns are being raised about introducing it into the home market with a higher than acceptable rate of error.
• The HIV-positive Canadian woman charged with assault after having sexual liaisons with multiple men on an Ontario military base without informing them of her status has been sentenced to 12 months of house arrest.
When I was in school and studying economics, sex was rarely a topic of discussion in class, except by members the men’s lacrosse team, all of whom inevitably sat behind me. You may not know that there is a very valid study of the economics of sex, and this Sunday the New York Times will feature an eye-opening piece on just how expensive sex can be [subscription required].
“In recent decades, we have witnessed the most exorbitant new price associated with sex: the H.I.V. virus. Because AIDS is potentially deadly and because it can be spread relatively easily by sex between two men, the onset of AIDS in the early 1980’s caused a significant increase in the price of gay sex. Andrew Francis, a graduate student in economics at the University of Chicago, has tried to affix a dollar figure to this change. Setting the value of an American life at $2 million, Francis calculated that in terms of AIDS-related mortality, it cost $1,923.75 in 1992 (the peak of the AIDS crisis) for a man to have unprotected sex once with a random gay American man versus less than $1 with a random woman.”
An Anglican priest in Vancouver who went public on Friday to say he is dying of AIDS has made an urgent appeal to the Canadian government to approve quick access to an experimental AIDS drug for him and four other men. Rev. Michael Forshaw balks at the government’s claim that he could die from the new AIDS drugs if they were approved at this early stage in their development:
“I’m not afraid to die. I mean, my faith keeps me going in that,” he told The Vancouver Sun. “But if my death is the result of some bureaucratic blunder, I’ll certainly be p-o’d.”
In the time that it takes you to read this sentence, someone somewhere will have died of AIDS, and another person will have contracted HIV. That’s 5 people dying every minute — 8,000 people per day — and 3 million new infections to replace those we have died. Today is World AIDS Day and the New York Times says “The AIDS story this year is mostly one of failure: the failure of rich countries to give the promised money, the failure of poor nations to muster the political will. All around, it’s a failure of leadership.”
Dr. Anne Morris, who died this summer in North Haven, Me., during a fundraiser for the disease, will be honored by the United Nations today for her commitment to AIDS research and outreach.
A 32-year-old HIV-positive Newfoundland woman has pleaded guilty to an aggravated assault charge after having unprotected sex with a 22-year-old Canadian soldier without informing him of her status. She was well-known on an Ontario base, where, according to the Star, “tales of sexual escapades surfaced from soldiers who said they saw a woman wandering through the residences wearing only a pink G-string and knee-high boots.”
In a repeat of a performance seen earlier this year in Vancouver, a man held up a Banana Republic store in San Francisco this month, using as his weapon a syringe he claimed was filled with HIV-positive blood. He was caught by police when he returned to the store a few days later (To shop?).
• A 25-year-old HIV-positive British man appears to now be ‘cured’ of HIV after repeated tests show his system free of the virus. Andrew Simpson says he is “one of the luckiest people alive,” in what doctors are calling the “first well-documented” case of sero-reversal. Not everyone is convinced.
• Across the Atlantic, in Hamilton, Ont., Johnson Aziga will stand trial for murder, making him the first HIV-positive person in Canada to be charged with murder after allegedly having unprotected sex and passing on the virus. Two Toronto women he is alleged to have had sex with have both died from AIDS-related complications.
Trevis Smith, an HIV-positive American playing professional football for the Saskatchewan Roughriders has been banned from returning to his home country following charges of aggravated assault against a Vancouver woman.
In Canada, an assault charge can result if someone who knows he or she is HIV-positive has sex with another person without warning them of the condition. Smith has also been banned from nightclubs and bars, must adhere to a strict curfew, and has been ordered to refrain from unprotected sex.
What ever happened to guns? In one of the most bizarre stories ever, a serial robber in Vancouver has been holding up stores and threatening victims with a syringe he claims is filled with HIV.
• Also this week, AIDS Vancouver launches “Gay Men Play Safe,” a new HIV prevention web site and education campaign that will run in cities from coast to coast.
Apparently men in San Francisco are having sex. And lots of it. The Times runs with afascinating story about the city’s declining HIV infection rate that city officials attribute to “sero-sorting” or men having sex with men of the same HIV status. It’s estimated that one-quarter of the city’s gay population is HIV-positive. The new-infection rate is 1.1 percent of the population per year, which is a drop from 2.2 percent last year.
Some claims made in the piece are “positively” jaw-dropping. Consider this nugget. In one study of the sexual behavior of HIV-positive men, “Data from three recent months showed that the 176 gay participants engaged in 5,500 acts of sexual intercourse occurring with men known to be HIV positive.” If you extrapolate, that’s about 30 sexual encounters for each person over 90 days
Boston aside, there is no American city I’ve spent as much time in as San Francisco. I’ve felt a full range of emotions about the place; at times I’ve been allured and other times almost appalled by San Francisco. It’s a beguiling city where dreams and reality have often collided — sometimes painfully. I can’t even fathom what the city was like in the unbridled days before AIDS. A piece in today’s Times brings a bit of it to life.
“People could hardly have expected to have safe sex before the concept existed…and this thought is worth keeping in mind when you pick up, ‘Let’s Shut Out the World’,” says the eye-opening feature on Kevin Bentley, a San Francisco author who made it through the excess of the 1970s and lived to tell the tale. His new book is a “diary and a memoir whose substance is, raunchily, bracingly and tenderly sex.”
“He is a gay man whose political awakening came second to his sexual one and he is the rare remaining witness of a time when California was still a place of legend for counterculture types and apprentice lotus eaters.” He went to San Francisco from El Paso in the ’70s to “catch the party.” As the piece notes, “He caught the party, all right, and he paid what we now think of as the price of admission.”
“I came to San Francisco with a romantic idea,” he explained, while seated in a Starbucks that was long ago a gay bar. The idea was this, he said: “Love and passion and intimate love in themselves are a worthwhile quest.”
“I was really like any normal guy, normal looking, worried about not finding love, but still very aware how lucky he was to find himself where he was.”
“Though little is left of the gay 70’s in San Francisco, there are apparently enough people who can recall its effects on the local culture to keep the old spirit alive. Recently a number of attempts have been made to blow the dust off and unearth the raunchy and hopeful time when promiscuous sex symbolized not so much a death wish but counterculture exuberance.”
“Like Chelsea or any other tour bus idea of a homosexual haunt, the Castro occasionally has the dated look of a glass-fronted civic cabinet, its shelves arrayed with human souvenirs.”
• More on the book from A Different Light, the gayest bookstore in the West
Ottawa is expected to announce plans today that will increase the penalty for producing or selling crystal meth from 10 years to life in prison. The stiffer sentencing guidelines bring crystal meth trafficking on par with heroine and cocaine.
Meanwhile, there is a new anti-meth poster campaign I’ve seen popping up, a few examples of which I’ve posted here
Most people don’t know that sexually active gay men — or any man who’s had sex with a man, for that matter — are prohibited from donating blood in the United States due to a policy that was established to keep HIV-infected positive blood out of the national supply. Critics of the ban contend that it is unprotected sex, not gay sex, that is the real culprit when it comes to potentially tainting the U.S. blood supply. The FDA ban has survived numerous challenges, despite protests from those who point out that all blood is screened for HIV prior to reuse.
Students at the University of Maine recently led a successful effort to force the Red Cross — which publicly endorses the FDA-imposed ban — and their blood drive off campus. The campus instead welcomed a different blood collection organization that supports lifting the ban.
Meanwhile, the Red Cross this week is lamenting that they “need blood badly” and is asking hospitals to delay transfusions. In Detroit, the situation has gotten so bad that the Red Cross has declared a state of emergency and said they have only a 2-hour supply of blood left on hand.
The fast food giant heads to court in Cleveland today to defend itself against claims it discriminated against a long-time employee. Russell Rich says he was pressured to resign as a corporate manager after revealing he has AIDS. It is his second suit against McDonald’s, the first of which resulted in a $5 million settlement that was eventually overturned.
According to the AP, “Left without health insurance, Rich said he nearly died from the illness. In 1999, he became so sick and despondent that he sat in his garage with the car running. He began to feel the sting of the carbon monoxide, then got out of the car. ‘I decided I wasn’t going to let McDonald’s do this to me,’ he said.”
The most quotable figure in this debate seems to be Ann Fisher, the executive director of the AIDS Legal Council of Chicago. “If everybody with HIV who works in the food service industry didn’t show up for work tomorrow, America would starve,” she said, estimating that there are 100,000 U.S. food service workers with HIV or AIDS
You have to laugh when the Family Research Council (the “Christian organization promoting the traditional family unit and the Judeo-Christian value system upon which it is built”) comes out with its own carefully conducted “research.”
According to their latest project, which “examined deaths reported in homosexual publications, tracked the ages of the deceased and averaged the results … the life expectancy of a male homosexual, it was determined, was in the early 40s.” Critics claim they only looked at obituaries of people with AIDS.
One commentator, who admittedly is a bit skeptical of the new study, adds his own rant: “As I’ve written before, Oscar Wilde’s ‘love that dare not speak its name’ has turned into a lifestyle that won’t shut up. The ‘we’re here, we’re queer’ chant may not be heard as frequently as it was once, but gay activists and their sympathizers tolerate little deviance from their orthodoxy. Even using the word ‘homosexual’ can infuriate. I’ve heard from readers who claim to be profoundly offended by it.”
There was a similar study conducted a few years ago in Vancouver, which concluded that “under even the most liberal assumptions, gay and bisexual men in this urban center [Vancouver] are now experiencing a life expectancy similar to that experienced by all men in Canada in the year 1871.”