Saturday, August 15, 2009

A Pill-a-Day to Stop AIDS and Two Million Gay Sex Acts

Dr. Willi McFarland of the San Francisco Department of Public Health

The Stop AIDS Project presented two forums at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center in one week to involve concerned citizens in HIV/AIDS prevention. The first forum was on August 13, 2009, and was a panel discussion on a pill-a-day for blocking the virus, a Q&A, and then one-on-one discussions between panelists and audience members.

Panelists included Dr. Al Liu and Jen Sarche from the San Francisco Department of Public Health (SFDPH). Dr Liu is the Director of HIV Prevention Intervention Studies at SFDPH, and Jen Sarche is Director of SFDPH Community Programs. They spoke about San Francisco’s Prepare Study, which is The City’s pill-a-day effort.

Matt Sharp, the Director of Prevention and Treatment Advocacy at Project Inform, spoke about national and international pill-a-day studies.

SFDPH Research Unit Director Dr. Moupali Das-Douglas spoke about the community’s overall health with a reference to the threat of crystal meth.

Dr. Rick Loftus of Davies Hospital discussed the effect of a prevention pill on HIV negative men’s bodies.

The event was a collaboration between the SFDPH Research Unit and Stop AIDS Project, and they seamlessly interacted and coordinated their efforts to clarify the facts in laymen’s terms. More than 60 men attended the forum and about two thirds were people of color.

A pill-a-day has worked for birth control and for malaria prevention, so it was reasoned that if an HIV prevention pill could be developed, it would also be accepted. And it was announced that community comments would be welcomed at the next forum on September 17 about a pill-a-day program.

The second forum, on August 17, was about venues for virus infection intervention and on the controversial subject of serosorting.

The Stop AIDS Project’s Education Director Jennifer Hecht spoke passionately about how men at venues such as bars and sex clubs, along with online hook-ups can be persuaded to be safer during sex.

Serosorting was described by the SFDPH’s Dr. Willi McFarland as the method of trying to avoid HIV/AIDS by negative status people when they only have sex with other negative status people. And serosorting is also when positive status people avoid spreading HIV/AIDS by only having sex with other positive status people. This practice emerged from the community, and health professionals have been studying it to try to see how it works and how it can be enabled to try to cut back on the yearly new HIV infection rate of more than 1,000 people. It was seen as controversial by some activists because they felt it was creating one more division between men. And the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta thought it may cause more HIV infections because many people who think that they are negative are actually positive. Activists’ hate messages poured into the SFDPH offices, and Dr. McFarland displayed one in his slide show. The CDC has come around to the idea that serosorting as a viable AIDS prevention method.

The Stop AIDS Project has been interviewing people to learn about sexual practices since they were founded 25 years ago. Evidently thousands of San Francisco gay, bi, and trans men are not satisfied with just watching erotic videos of Kai Ford and Blu Kennedy going at it on their TV and computer screens. One interviewee mentioned had 90 anal sex contacts in 6 months. He was at the high end and that caused a lot of head turning at the forum. Then it was revealed that about 2 million man-on-man sex acts had occurred in San Francisco over a 6-month period. Some people rose a few inches from their seats, turned their heads to eye each other, and quietly gasped at that news.

A connection between the two forums was they both featured Stop AIDS Project Program Director Kate Sorenson as the MC. She masterfully kept the speakers to their time limits and made some definitive comments to keep the programs rolling. Stop AIDS Project’s Executive Director Kyriell Noon attentively monitored both forums from the audience, and he spoke with panelists and guests.

[Photo caption: 8/17/2009 — A Community Report on HIV Data at the San Francisco LGBT Community Center. Dr. Willi McFarland of the San Francisco Department of Public Health showed a hate message that was sent when his office suggested serosorting as an HIV/AIDS prevention strategy. Some people were offended that positives and negatives should only have sex with those of the same status. The forum covered new research and the HIV situation in SF.]

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