Saturday, 4 July 2009

A new hope?

Some of you may recall I blogged a while back about the fact that the USA was still a no go area for HIV+ individuals like myself since 1987 on the absurd premise that HIV still appears on their list of “dangerous and contagious” diseases which present a public health risk! I know, Go Figure!!

Well I am pleased to report that there is a new hope that these draconian restrictions on entry to the US for people with HIV will finally be removed when the US government indicated that it had completed a review of the removal of HIV from the list of communicable diseases that prevent myself, and many thousands of other HIV+ individuals entry to the supposed "Land of the Free".

Once the regulations have been removed, HIV will no longer be a bar for entry to the US for visitors or migrants and I may just manage to get back to Las Vegas and win back the shit load of cash I lost o the poker & Blackjack tables in 2003!

Before I can think about packing my cases and heading off there, there now be two periods of consultation, which could see the ban finally removed by late 2009! Can I get a WooHoo!?

Joking aside once these consulations are complete it now looks increasingly likely that the regulations prohibiting entry to the US for HIV+ travellers and migrants will be removed. The Office of Management and Budget said that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) could move forward with the revision of the regulations.

So far, a victory for common sense. However:

These revised regulations have not yet been published. Once they are, there is then a lengthy and complex period of consultation and review. Firstly they will be open for public consultation for 45 days. The regulations can be amended by the Department of Health and Human Services to reflect comments. The revised regulations will then have to be returned to the Office of Management and Budget for approval. A further period of review lasting between 30 and 60 days will then follow, after which the revised regulation will come into effect.

Being the eternal optimist that I am, I and thinking Christmas in Vegas, Summer in Sanfrancisco and the Fall in New England watching the leaves turn golden in the cool autumn breeze! A dream I have been harbouring every since I was diagnosed in September 2007! Hell, I may even be ablt to spend my 40th Birthday out there!

However, until this lengthy & protracted process is complete, individuals with HIV will still need to obtain a lengthy and soewhat degrading visa to legally enter the USA.

I live in hope!

Thursday, 21 May 2009

20 minute HIV testing now available on the NHS

Barts and the London NHS Trust has become the first in the UK to offer a HIV saliva test that provides a definitive result in 20 minutes. Saliva tests are not a new phenomenon as they have been widley available in the United states for some time.

In making the test available on the NHS, Barts hope more people will actively seek testing if the need to give blood and wait anything up to a week for results is eliminated.

Figues recently published show the UK has the highest number of new HIV infections in Western Europe, with more than 7,700 in 2007. With gay men accounting for 41% of those new cases. The figures also show that the bulk of heterosexual infections occurred whilst the infected persons were abroad.

However, as shocking as these statistics are they do not take into account the thousands of HIV+ indiviuals in the UK who are unaware they have the virus.

Currently, home saliva testing kits are banned in the UK due to the fact that counselling is not to hand at the point the results are presented but it hoped the availability of this rapid result test will encourage more indiviuals to get tested for HIV.

AIt is reported that around 200 people in Barts clinics have undergone the test since March 2009, and it is hoped about 250 patients per month will take the test in the future.

The test is available in non-healthcare settings such as outreach centres, and it is even hoped that the trust's sexual health workers will start taking the test into clubs and pubs!

Whilst tis outwardly seems like a great idea, I cannot personally see a great uptake of people wanting the test on a night out!

We have now got to a point in the UK where HIV is a long-term treatable condition akin to diabetes. However, this message has not yet filtered through and unfortuanatley stigma still does remain around HIV, even if it is not as prevalent as it was say 10 years ago.

The crucial point with HIV is that is is diagnosed in the early stages of infection, before you get ill. It is hoped the availability of a straightforward saliva test like the one now being offerde by Barts will encourage more people to find out if they are affected. The sooner you know, the better!!

The HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust, also offers a saliva test, and they often try and push the message that one of the key problems was that many people in the UK carrying the virus do not know they are infected.

This is a danger to their own health, but also means they can pass it on to others without knowing. Any method to increase the take-up of testing has got to be a welcome development.

If you are infected with HIV you should know that if you are diagnosed with HIV as early as possible and start a programme of treatment you can live into your 70s and beyond!

Of course there may be some health problems, but this is no longer a death sentence it once was - far from it.

The only way we can fight the spread of HIV is through programme of education and testing and this newly released test will only help the fight.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Iraq - the homophobic killings continue unabated

I blogged on this a week or so ago after reading a CNN flash on the indiscriminate homophobic killings in Iraq.

It would seem that these killings are still persisting in Iraq and this week Amnesty has called on Iraqi PM Nori Maliki calling for "urgent and concerted action". Amnesty have also criticised the Iraqi admistration for it's failure to condemn the killings.

In the last few weeks, Amnesty have reported around 25 boys and men are reported to have been killed in Baghdad because they were, or were perceived to be, gay.

As with previous killings, these recent murders are said to have been carried out by armed Shia militiamen as well as by members of the tribes and families of the victims.

Reports have cited that three corpses of gay men were found in the Shia area of Sadr City last week - two of which were reported to have had pieces of paper bearing the word "pervert" attached to them.

Amnesty has also raised concerns that religious leaders may be inciting violence against members of Iraq's gay community. It is also alleged that statements by one senior police officer appear to condone or even encourage the targeting of gay Iraqis.

Amnesty has called on the government to bring those responsible for the killings to justice and to ensure that effective protection is given to the gay community in Iraq.

As we already know, Islam (as do other organised religions) considers homosexuality sinful. An Iranian website published in the name of Ayatollah Sistani, Iraq's most revered Shia cleric, says: "Those who commit sodomy must be killed in the harshest way".

Sistani's official website calls for gay men to be executed. The statement appears in Arabic section of the website, in a section dealing with questions of morality, but not in the English-language equivalent.

Mr Sistani's representative, Seyed Kashmiri, was asked to explain the ruling by a BBC correspondent:

"Homosexuals and lesbians are not killed for practising their inclinations for the first time," Mr Kashmiri said in a response sent via email.

"There are certain conditions drawn out by jurists before this punishment can be implemented, which is perhaps similar to the punishment meted out by other heavenly religions."

He added: "Some rulings that are drawn out by jurists are done so on a theoretical basis. Not everything that is said is implemented."

OH! So that's alright then! In Iraq, if, "theoretically" you are gay then "theoretically" you are screwed! You may as well take the pistol and shove in your own mouth and pull the trigger.

We are now in the 21st century. An age of scientific, technological and spiritual enlightenment. Why then are we all idly standing by and allowing this to happen? The fact that since the US led invasion of Iraq these killings seem to have gotten worse leaves a bitter taste in the mouth.

Should we be blaming the increase in violence on the ever growing influence of religious figures and militia groups in Iraq since Saddam Hussein was ousted.

If we (the US/UK led coalition) are the liberators of Iraq then why is that "liberation" not being extended to all areas of Iraq, liberation for all regardless of their sexual orientation.

If this kind of religiously sanctioned homophobiawas happening in the US or UK then you can just imagine the headlines!

This bigotry and persecution must stop.

You can read can read more here at the Iraqi LGBT blog.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

AIDS - It's time to stop denying the truth!

In most of Europe and indeed across the world, refuting the established facts of the Holocaust can land you in jail. Why then is denying AIDS not so harshly punished? I draw comparison with David Irving, the "historian" whose denial of the holocaust earned him a spell in an Austrian prison before he was recently let out on probation. Given the hard and fast established facts of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, why are the AIDS denialist not afforded such?

Across the world there seems to be a growing band of AIDS denial activists spinning their flawed logic to anyone who will listen and gullible enough to consume their words, often with shocking consequences.

Just as Irving and others have ignored documented facts to spin their flawed logic, so a handful of mercenary scientists have ignored the truth to side with the denialists.

One story that actually shocked me is that of Christine Maggiore the founder of Alive & Well AIDS Alternatives. Christine died in December last year after a long battle with HIV/AIDS. Even after she had passed away her followers did everything to refute the official findings of the coroner as to the actual cause of her death (disseminated herpes virus infection and bilateral pneumonia, with oral candidiasis as a contributing cause; all three are related to HIV infection) Although it should be noted that No official autopsy was (allowed to be?) performed.

Even more disturbing in the case of Christine Maggiore is the death of her 3 year old daughter in 2005 from untreated AIDS.

Where am I going with this? Well I guess this case highlights all the flawed "science" of the denialists and their self-serving diatribe. As sad as this case is, especially given the death of an innocent child who had no say in her treatment.

How can it be that science that is not founded in any of the established and accepted medical facts be used to such devastating effect? How can governments be seduced into accepting a "truth" that flies in the face of every other HIV/AIDS professional on the planet?

The truth is this: HIV & AIDS are a very real issue in the World and only by education will we finally be able to fight this pandemic on a level playing field.

In the eighties the UK government ran a national campaign entitled "Don't die of ignorance" It is just a shame that countless thousands are dying every year due to the ignorance of others!

HIV & AIDS are real - the ties that bind the two together are undeniable and those that deny the truth are not only ignorant but indefensible!

Further reading

Saturday, 11 April 2009

Did you hear the one about the "scientists" that claim HIV does not lead to AIDS?

As crazy as that sounds there are people out there that truly believe that HIV does not cause AIDS!

HIV causes AIDS. This is an established medical fact, based on more than a quarter of a century of science. Unbelievably, AIDS denialists claims that HIV is actually harmless, and that the antiretroviral drugs used to treat HIV actually cause AIDS.

They believe that the pharmaceutical industry has somehow conspired with doctors and scientists, to invent a disease as a means of selling the pharmaceutical companies harmful drugs. Such claims may sound like absolute insanity to most of us. But the sad truth is that AIDS denialism has emerged as a genuine threat to global public health policy including in the USA and, particularly, in South Africa.

I first became aware of AIDS denialism after reading the blog of Dr Andrew Goldacre. He is the author of a book called "Bad Science" I am yet to read the book but he has just released a "missing" chapter that due to a legal dispute could not be included in the original print of the book.

The additional chapter, "The doctor will sue you now" primarily discusses the influence Matthias Rath had on the public health policy of South African President Thabo Mbeki's regarding HIV/AIDS.

Rath claims that illness can be treated successfully by course of nutritional supplements he calls "Cellular medicine".

Anyways, take a look at the links and make up your own minds!

I am HIV+, when diagnosed I had a low CD4 and a mid range Viral Load. I did take some time to think over the side effects of taking HAART and as well as its benefits. I am lucky, I live in a society that has a great healthcare system. A system that runs based on established scientific fact. A system that allows you to make a informed choice based on fact and expertise. The people of South Africa are not afforded such luxury and therefore it those of us much more fortunate to ensure that "quackery" is not passed as medical fact and subsequently put the lives of many thousands in danger.

AIDS Denialism causes untold death and suffering through ignorance. This has to stop if we are to be in with a chance of making a unified and informed stand against HIV & AIDS.

Thanks for stopping by (",)

Monday, 6 April 2009

United States of America - No go for HIV+ individuals

Since 1987, the United States has imposed a travel ban on HIV-infected individuals entering the country as visitors or immigrants on the absurd premise that HIV appears on their list of “dangerous and contagious” diseases which present a public health risk.

The law specifically prohibits foreigners from immigrating or obtaining a travel visa to the United States. On July 30, 2008, President Bush (Yeah Bush of all people!)signed into law a five-year, $48 billion (£32.5 billion)bill to fight AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis around the world as well as to lift the ban on HIV+ travelers entering the USA.

However, the ban has still not actually been lifted and HIV/AIDS activists, who at first praising the Bush administration are becoming frustrated and impatient for an actual removal of the ban.

HIV/AIDS activists originally declared the ban to be unnecessary and unfair. The ban itself was not written into US law until 1993, during the Clinton Administration. This legislation made HIV the only specific medical condition mentioned as grounds for inadmissibility to the US. Activists have long argued that the ban was just another in a long string on US inconsistencies on HIV/AIDS policy. Many HIV professionals stated that the ban was not consistent with the international leadership role the United States has taken with PEPFAR (President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS relief). Experts at the International AIDS conference last Autumn were full of praise for the new legislation on lifting the travel ban. However, since then very little has been done to actually lift the ban. Apparently, in order to do so, the Department of Health and Human Services must write a new rule, submit it for public comment, and finalise it. At the end of his tenure as President, some 58 Democrats submitted a letter to President Bush urging “swift action” on the issue.

Due to the ban, no major AIDS conference has been held on US soil since 1993 as no activists or researchers infected with the virus may enter the country without embarking on a complicated waiver process.

I was reading that in 1991, some 40,000 Haitian political refugees fled to the US. Of these refugees, 158 were detained in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba due to the HIV ban. For nearly twenty months, Guantanamo Bay hosted these 158 political refugees, due to either being HIV-positive, or a relative of one of the positive refugees.

Despite the fact Bush had signed the bill mandating removal of the ban into law, HIV remains on the list of “dangerous and contagious” diseases that may prevent entry into the United States. Recently, the Department of Homeland Security released a revised and “streamlined” process for obtaining a waiver, making it easier to obtain the necessary visa for postive indiviuals to enter the US. However, the Department of Heath and Human Services has still not removed HIV from the list of medical conditions which are grounds for exclusion from entering the country.

A study conducted in 2006 showed that of 1113 HIV positive survey respondents. 349 (31%) had traveled to the United States. Of those 349 that had traveled to the US, only 14.3% traveled with the mandatory waiver to obtain a travel visa. Many simply did not disclose their status. This study not only shows the inefficacy of the travel ban, but shows the harm presented to HIV+ individuals who desire to visit the United States. The study showed that patients on anti-retroviral therapy (212 patients) were more likely to go off their medication, increasing their chances of developing drug-resistant HIV strains or developing AIDS.

There are other countries around the world that, along with the US, maintain an archaic travel ban on people living with HIV. These countries are: Iraq, China, Saudi Arabia, Libya, Sudan, Qatar, Brunei, Oman, Moldova, Russia, Armenia, and South Korea.

Given it's standing in the World should the United States still include itself amongst these countries in discriminating against people living with HIV?

We can just hope that the newly elected Obama Administration will take this somewhat contentsion bull by the horns and end the uneccessary discrimination of HIV+ people wishing to visit the USA.

At the risk of highjacking the Obama sound bite that helped him ride the crest of a wave to his historic victory - It's time for change! It is also time for hope. A hope that so many have in Barack Obama and his first term in office.

Bayer - The great HIV cover-up

OK, so this may be old news (broke in 2006) but I have only just stumbled across the story and I am so utter disgusted by the details I was just compelled to write about it.

So this is the long and short of the story.

In 2006 it was discovered from released documents that Bayer sells a HIV-Infected Drug in Latin America, Europe and Asia.

The documents show that the drug company sold millions of dollars worth of Factor VIII concentrate (an injectable blood clotting drug) intended for hemophiliacs to some Asian, Latin American, and European countries in the mid-1980s even though they KNEW that it was tainted with the HIV virus.

Bayer were aware of the fact that the drug was tainted and allegedly told the FDA to keep things under wraps while they made a profit off a drug that infected its patients.

You can watch the MSNBC news report on the story below:

If these allegations are true, then both Bayer and the FDA are guilty of the infection and subsequent deaths of 1000's of haemophiliacs worldwide. It is also alleged that FDA regulators helped to keep the continued sales hidden, asking the company that the problem be ''quietly solved without alerting the Congress, the medical community and the public,'' all this according to the minutes of a 1985 meeting.

Yet despite these allegations, no Bayer executives ever faced arrest or prosecution in the United States. A Bayer representative had this to say: “Bayer behaved responsibly, ethically and humanely… [and its actions] were consistent with regulations.” Mmmm! Go figure!

Here's what gets me, I had a choice in my HIV infection. As I have blogged previously. I took the risks and have paid the price. However the haemophiliacs affected by this did not have a choice! The Factor VIII was their lifeline, a drug that would help their condition, to go some way to live a normal life. How many would have willing taken the medication if they knew that they would be trading one condition for another disease that (at the time) would prove to be terminal? A condition that, without their knowledge would not only affect them but their loved ones too via secondary infection.

I find it totally off the scale that, if true, no one from either Bayer or the FDA have ever faced any charges with respect to this blatant display of corporate greed and ignorance.