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Severe anti-LGBT legislations associated with lower testing and awareness of HIV

A meta-analysis involving 44,993 men who have sex with men finds that anti-LGBT legislation is associated with lower HIV testing and awareness.

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A meta-analysis involving 44,993 men who have sex with men finds that anti-LGBT legislation is associated with lower HIV testing and awareness.

This first systematic review to investigate HIV testing, treatment and viral suppression in men who have sex with men in Africa finds that among the most recent studies (conducted after 2011) only half of men have been tested for HIV in the past 12 months. In addition, only a quarter of men living with HIV were on antiretroviral therapy or virally suppressed.

The analysis, published in The Lancet HIV journal, found that testing for HIV was higher where there was more protective and progressive legislation and fewer or no LGBT-related arrests.

Although rates of testing are substantially higher than before 2011, they are not sufficient to achieve the targets set by the UN (to have 90% of people living with HIV aware of their status, 90% of those aware also on antiretroviral therapy, and 90% of these achieving viral suppression by 2020). The findings support previous country-level studies suggesting an association between anti-LGBT legislation and access to testing and treatment.

Globally, men who have sex with men are about 28 times more likely to be living with HIV than are men in the general population, and this is particularly apparent in sub-Saharan Africa where human rights of these men are often violated. Anti-LGBT discrimination creates barriers to implementing effective HIV research, policy and health programs along with disruption of services provided by community and non-governmental organizations.

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Professor Marie-Claude Boily of Imperial College London, UK says: “Nearly one million people living with HIV still die annually because they cannot or do not get tested and engage in treatment. Our results suggest that despite improvements in recent years in Africa, engagement in HIV testing and treatment among men who have sex with men is still low, and additional efforts are urgently needed. With an estimated 67% of men who have sex with men in Africa surveyed after 2011 having ever tested for HIV, we are still a long way off achieving the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets.”

The review used 75 independent studies conducted between 2004 and 2017 from 28 African countries to estimate HIV testing, status awareness, engagement in care, antiretroviral therapy use, and viral suppression in the men.

Over all studies conducted after 2011, the estimated proportion of participants ever tested for HIV was 67%, which was 1.3 times higher than before 2011, and was highest in southern Africa (80%) and lowest in northern Africa (34 %). In comparison, the proportion of men tested in the last 12 months was 50% in studies after 2011, which was 1.6 times higher than before 2011, and again was highest in southern but lowest in eastern Africa (67% vs 40%).

The proportion of men who have sex with men who are HIV positive and aware of their status was much lower at just 19%, and was particularly low in eastern Africa even after 2011 (9%). Overall, less than 24% of men living with HIV were currently on antiretroviral therapy, and an estimated 25% of men living with HIV were currently virally suppressed. It was not possible to look at changes over time as there was not enough data in the studies on these outcomes.

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Levels of HIV testing ever, in the past 12 months, and HIV status awareness were lower in countries with the most severe anti-LGBT legislation, compared with countries with the least severe legislation. Men were more likely to have ever been tested for HIV in countries with more protective and progressive legislation and no LGBT-related arrests from 2014-17.

The authors note some limitations, including that there were no studies in 26 African countries, including 13 countries where same-sex relations are illegal, so the new findings may not apply to the entire African continent and results may be worse in countries with more severe anti-LGBT legislation. Despite a substantial increase in the number of studies on testing for HIV, treatment and viral suppression, data remains scarce for all outcomes except HIV testing, especially from central and northern Africa. This means the study may underestimate or overestimate engagement, especially for antiretroviral therapy use and viral suppression. The authors note that this reflects the challenges of doing research among key populations that face substantial stigma.

The anti-LGBT legislation index used in the study only includes information about legislation, not how it is implemented so may not have captured the full picture. Because most of the studies included were self-reported and used non-confidential interview methods, underreporting and reporting biases are possible.

In a linked Comment article, Dr Jean Joel Bigna of the Centre Pasteur of Cameroon, Yaoundé, Cameroon, says: “Stannah and colleagues have provided important updates on the current situation regarding the HIV care cascade among men who have sex with men in Africa, and highlight areas where urgent action is needed. Governments in Africa should develop comprehensive programs and holistic interventions to provide care, support, and preventive services for this hard-to-reach stigmatized and discriminated vulnerable population. Community mobilization, health-care worker education to decrease stigma and discrimination and engagement remain crucial to end the HIV/AIDS pandemic both globally and at its epicenter in Africa. Human rights are universal and sexual orientation is no grounds for exclusion.”

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Health should not be a privilege for the rich — UNAIDS

Gaps in public financing for health can be met by eliminating tax dodging and implementing progressive taxation; health and development must be protected from the growing impact of debt.

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UNAIDS is calling on governments to ensure that the right to health is realized by all by prioritizing public investments in health. At least half of the world’s population cannot access essential health services. Every two minutes a woman dies while giving birth. Among the people being left behind are women, adolescents, people living with HIV, gay men and other men who have sex with men, sex workers, people who inject drugs, transgender people, migrants, refugees and poor people.

“The right to health is eluding the poor and people trying to lift themselves out of poverty are being crushed by the unacceptably high costs of health care. The richest 1% benefit from cutting-edge science while the poor struggle to get even basic health care,” said Winnie Byanyima, Executive Director of UNAIDS.

Nearly 100 million people are pushed into extreme poverty (defined as living on US$ 1.90 or less a day) because they have to pay for health care, and more than 930 million people (around 12% of the world’s population) spend at least 10% of their household budgets on health care. In many countries, people are denied health care or receive poor quality health care because of unaffordable user fees. Stigma and discrimination denies poor and vulnerable people, especially women, their right to health.

Every week, 6000 young women around the world become infected with HIV. In sub-Saharan Africa, four out of five new HIV infections among adolescents are among adolescent girls and AIDS-related illnesses are the biggest killer of women of reproductive age in the region. Despite significant progress in reducing AIDS-related deaths and new HIV infections, there were 1.7 million new HIV infections in 2018 and nearly 15 million people are still waiting to receive HIV treatment.

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“Publicly financed health care is the greatest equalizer in society,” said Ms Byanyima. “When health spending is cut or inadequate, it is poor people and people on the margins of society, especially women and girls, who lose their right to health first, and they have to bear the burden of caring for their families.”

Delivering health care for all is a political choice that too many governments are not making. Thailand has reduced mortality rates for children under the age of five years to 9.1 per 1000 live births, while in the United States of America the rate is 6.3 per 1000 live births, even though Thailand’s gross domestic product per capita is about one tenth of that of the United States. Thailand’s progress has been achieved through a publicly financed health-care system that entitles every Thai citizen essential health services at all life stages and leaves no one behind.

South Africa had just 90 people on antiretroviral therapy in 2000, but in 2019 had more than 5 million on HIV treatment. South Africa now has the largest HIV treatment programme in the world. Countries such as Canada, France, Kazakhstan and Portugal have strong publicly financed health systems, yet some other richer countries do not.

Health investments in many countries remain very low compared to their gross domestic product. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development estimates that developing countries lose between US$ 150 billion and US$ 500 billion every year owing to corporate tax avoidance and profit shifting by big companies. If this lost money were invested in health, health expenditure could triple in low-income countries and could double in lower-middle-income countries. The race to the bottom on corporate tax cheats denies developing countries of much needed revenue and robs ordinary people of vital health services. The countries of the Economic Community of West African States lose an estimated US$ 9.6 billion each year to numerous tax incentives.

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“It is unacceptable that rich people and big companies are avoiding taxes and ordinary people are paying through their ill health,” said Ms Byanyima. “Big companies must pay their fair share of taxes, protect employee rights, provide equal pay for equal work and provide safe working conditions for all, especially women.”

Debt is posing a serious threat to Africa’s economy, health and development, resulting in big cuts in social spending to ensure debt repayment. According to the International Monetary Fund, as of April 2019 half of low-income countries in Africa were either in debt distress or at a high risk of being so. Beyond low-income countries, in Zambia there was a 27% drop in health-care investments and an increase of debt servicing by 790% between 2015 and 2018. Similar trends were seen in Kenya, where debt servicing increased by 176% and health investments declined by 9% between 2015 and 2018. “There is an urgent need to manage debt in ways that protects people’s health. That means ensuring new financing focuses on social investments, debt repayments being halted for a period if needed to allow economic recovery and debt restructuring under a coordinated mechanism to protect spending on HIV, health and development,” said Ms Byanyima.

A major factor of ill health is the denial of human rights. According to the World Bank, more than one billion women lack legal protection against domestic violence and close to 1.4 billion women lack legal protection against domestic economic violence. In at least 65 countries, a same-sex sexual relationship is a crime. In recent years in some countries, crackdowns and restrictions on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people have increased. Sex work is a criminal offence in 98 countries. Forty-eight countries and territories still maintain some form of HIV-related restrictions on entry, stay and residence. A recent study of sex work policies in 27 countries concluded that those that decriminalized some aspects of sex work have significantly lower HIV prevalence among sex workers.

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In 91 countries, adolescents require the consent of their parents to take an HIV test and in 77 countries they require the consent of their parents to access sexual and reproductive health services, creating barriers to protect young people from HIV infection. One of the consequences of this is that the HIV incidence rate among young women and girls in eastern and southern Africa is twice that of their male peers.

“In the next decade, we can end AIDS as a public health threat and achieve universal health coverage. Governments must tax fairly, provide publicly funded quality health care, guarantee human rights and achieve gender equality for all—it is possible,” said Ms Byanyima.

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Truvada should remain first choice for HIV prevention, experts say

With the exorbitant cost of these drugs, there are huge public health and economic implications if most PrEP users begin to use the newer TAF/FTC pill rather than TDF/FTC for PrEP.

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In October 2019, the US Food and Drug Administration approved a second medication for use as HIV preexposure prophylaxis, also known as PrEP, sparking controversy about which drug should be prescribed. Gilead Sciences, which manufactures both approved drugs, has argued that the new drug is safer and more effective than the old drug. But these claims are overstated, say a team of clinical and public health experts.

Their commentary, “Tenofovir Alafenamide for HIV Preexposure Prophylaxis – What Can We DISCOVER About Its True Value?”, appears in the January 14 issue of Annals of Internal Medicine.

PrEP, which is 99% effective in preventing HIV, exists in two forms: tenofovir disoproxil fumarate with emtricitabine (TDF/FTC) – best known as Truvada, its brand name in the US – and tenofovir alafenamide with emtricitabine (TAF/FTC), known as Descovy. TDF/FTC has been used for PrEP for more than 7 years, with ample evidence of its safety and effectiveness.

“These drugs are equally effective when used for PrEP in gay and bisexual men and transgender women, and the potential safety benefits of TAF/FTC over TDF/FTC have not yet been shown to be clinically significant,” said lead author Douglas Krakower, MD, Assistant Professor at the Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and Harvard Medical School.

The high cost of PrEP medications, around $24,000 per year in the US, has been a major barrier to PrEP use. Activists have argued that taxpayer money funded the development of PrEP medications, and the US Department of Health and Human Services recently sued Gilead Sciences over patent infringement.

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The older PrEP medication, TDF/FTC, will be available as a generic as early as 2020, which could reduce costs and increase access. But Gilead Sciences holds the exclusive rights to manufacture TAF/FTC until 2022 and has requested a patent extension to 2025. If the generic version of TDF/FTC is perceived to be less safe, uptake of TAF/FTC would presumably rise – with cost ramifications.

“With the exorbitant cost of these drugs, there are huge public health and economic implications if most PrEP users begin to use the newer TAF/FTC pill rather than TDF/FTC for PrEP,” said senior author Julia Marcus, PhD, Assistant Professor in the Department of Population Medicine at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care Institute and Harvard Medical School. “Gilead is asking us to ‘update’ our PrEP to TAF/FTC, but that’s not a clinically necessary or cost-effective choice for the vast majority of PrEP users.”

The authors examined the available data on the safety, efficacy, and public health context for the two PrEP medications. Robust data show the effectiveness of TDF/FTC in all priority populations at risk for HIV, including gay and bisexual men, transgender women, people who inject drugs, and heterosexuals whose partners are living with HIV. In contrast, the only efficacy data for TAF/FTC come from the DISCOVER trial, which enrolled solely gay and bisexual men and a small number of transgender women.

“In the DISCOVER study, TDF/FTC was associated with small changes in renal and bone biomarkers, while TAF/FTC was linked to weight gain and changes in cholesterol,” noted Dr. Krakower. But there were no differences between the groups in clinical events or the number of people who stopped the drug for safety reasons, suggesting that these small changes may not be clinically important. “Given the available clinical evidence and public health context, TDF/FTC should remain the first choice for the vast majority of PrEP users,” he said.

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In addition to Drs. Krakower and Marcus, authors of the commentary included Demetre Daskalakis, MD, Deputy Commissioner at the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and Judith Feinberg, MD, Professor of Medicine at West Virginia University and Chair of the Board of Directors of the HIV Medicine Association.

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Phl reported 36 new HIV cases per day as of end-August 2019

In August 2019, there were 1,228 newly confirmed HIV-positive individuals reported to the HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines. This was 17% higher compared with the diagnosed cases (1,047) in the same period in 2018.

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In August 2019, there were 1,228 newly confirmed HIV-positive individuals reported to the HIV/AIDS & ART Registry of the Philippines (HARP). This was 17% higher compared with the diagnosed cases (1,047) in the same period in 2018.

This is worth noting: The figure is ALSO higher than the month before, July 2019, when the HARP recorded 35 new HIV cases per day.

As of end-August, the Philippines now has 36 new HIV cases per day; up one case in July 2019.

As contained in the still-delayed report of the DOH, 15% of the new cases in August (or 185) had clinical manifestations of advanced HIV infection (WHO clinical stage 3 or 4) at the time of diagnosis.

Ninety-five percent (1,170) of the newly diagnosed were male. The median age was 27 years old (age range: 1-72 years old). Almost half of the cases (47%, 578) were 25-34 years old and 35% (424) were 15-24 years old at the time of testing.

More than a third (34%, 417) were from the National Capital Region (NCR). Region 4A (18%, 218), Region 3 (9%, 117), Region 7 (8%, 93), and Region 6 (7%, 82) comprised the top five regions with the most number of newly diagnosed cases for the month, together accounting for 76% of the total figure.

Sexual contact remained as the predominant mode of transmission (98%, 1,202). Among the newly diagnosed, 61% (748) reported transmission through male to male sex, 25% (310) through sex with both males and females, and 12% (144) were through male to female sex. Other modes of transmission were sharing of infected needles (1%, 13) and vertical (formerly mother-to-child) transmission (<1%, 2). Eleven cases had no data on mode of transmission.

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Among the newly diagnosed females this month, nine were pregnant at the time of diagnosis. Five cases were from NCR, two from Region 7 and one case each from Regions 3 and 11.

SPECIAL POPULATIONS

HIV continues to greatly adversely affect the young.

In August 2019, 424 (35%) cases were among youth 15-24 years old; and 97% were male. Almost all were infected through sexual contact (29 male-female sex, 288 male-male sex, 105 sex with both males and females). One case was infected through sharing of needles and one had no data on mode of transmission.

Still for the same period, there were 69 newly diagnosed adolescents (10-19 years old) at the time of diagnosis. Of these, two cases were 10-14 years old, 18 were 15-17 years old, and 49 were 18-19 years old. Almost all were infected through sexual contact (four male-female sex, 48 male-male sex, and 16 had sex with both males and females) and one had no data on mode of transmission. In addition, there were two diagnosed cases less than 10 years old and both were infected through vertical/mother-to-child transmission.

Sixty-three Filipinos who worked overseas within the past five years, whether on land or at sea, were diagnosed in August 2019. They comprised 5% of the total newly diagnosed cases for the month. Of these, 86% (54) were male. All were infected through sexual contact (seven male-female sex, 30 male-male sex, and 17 sex with both males and females). The ages of male OFWs ranged from 21 to 68 years (median: 32 years). Four were 15-24 years old, 27 were 25-34 years old, 22 were 35-49 years old, and one case was 50 years & older. Among the nine female OFWs diagnosed in August 2019, four each were in 25-34 & 35-49 years old age group and one was 50 years and older at the time of testing. The age range among diagnosed female OFWs were 31 to 56 years (median: 35 years old).

The number of those getting infected with HIV from transactional sex is still noteworthy.

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In August 2019, 13% (163) of the newly diagnosed engaged in transactional sex. Ninety-eight percent (159) were male and aged from 13 to 72 years old (median: 28 years). Fifty-eight percent (92) of the males reported paying for sex only, 35% (56) reported accepting payment for sex only and 7% (11) engaged in both. Also, among the four female cases who engaged in transactional sex, two were reported to have accepted payment for sex only, one case was paying for sex only and one case had engaged in both paying and accepting payment in exchange for sex.

Meanwhile, and as already stated, nine pregnant women were newly diagnosed with HIV. Five cases were from NCR, two from Region 7 and one case each from Regions 3 and 11. The age of diagnosis ranged from 19 to 36 (median age: 31).

ACCESS TO MEDS

The number of those in ART has FINALLY breached half the total number of PLHIVs.

The first case of HIV infection in the Philippines was reported in 1984. Since then, there have been 70,740 confirmed HIV cases reported to the HARP.

In August 2019, there were 922 patients who were initiated on ART. The median CD4 of these patients upon enrollment was 207 cells/mm. With the 922, a total of 40,952 people living with HIV (PLHIV) were presently on ART as of end-August. Most of whom were males (97%). The age of reported cases ranged from 1 to 81 years (median: 31 years old). Ninety-five percent were on first line regimen, 4% were on second line, and 1% were on other line of regimen.

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Still also worth noting is the continuing problem with access to treatment in the Philippines. The DOH itself has been lambasted for its problematic procurement issues that affect ART intake; and this is even if DOH continues to deny that there are issues hounding its HIV-related efforts.

COUNTING DEATHS

But that HIV is no longer a death sentence remains an invalid claim in the Philippines.

In August 2019, there were 70 reported AIDS-related deaths. Ninety-six percent (67) were males. One (1%) were less than 15 years old at the time of death, 16 (23%) cases were 15-24 years old, 30 (43%) were 25-34 years old, 19 (27%) were 35-49 years old and four (6%) were 50 years and older. Eighty-nine percent of the cases were reported to have acquired the infection through sexual contact.

Sexual contact (96%) was the most common mode of HIV transmission among reported deaths (752 through male-female sex, 1,698 through male-male sex, 987 through males who have sex with both males and females). Other modes of transmission of reported deaths were sharing of infected needles (79), vertical/mother-to-child transmission (26),

To stress, the actual number of AIDS-related deaths in the country is questionable because of non- and/or under-reporting.

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Pregnant women with HIV often not given recommended treatment

A study involving more than 1,500 women found that 30% were prescribed drugs that had insufficient evidence of safety in pregnancy.

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Women living with HIV who are also pregnant don’t always receive recommended antiretroviral medications, according to a recent study of prescribing patterns carried out by a MassGeneral Hospital for Children (MGHfC) researcher in collaboration with other members of the Surveillance Monitoring for ART Toxicities (SMARTT) study of the Pediatric HIV/AIDS Cohort Study (PHACS) network.

Few studies, if any, have compared actual prescribing patterns of HIV medications for pregnant women to national treatment guidelines. This study suggests that physicians may be prescribing ahead of the published recommendations, and using drugs or drug combinations they have seen work in the adult population in general.

“We studied, more than 1,500 women and found that 30% were prescribed drugs that had insufficient evidence of safety in pregnancy,” says Kathleen M. Powis, MD, MPH, investigator in MGHfC’s division of Pediatric Global Health and first author of the study, which was published in JAMA Network Open.

For the last 25 years, the US Department of Health and Human services Panel on Treatment of HIV-infected Pregnant Women and Prevention of Perinatal Transmission has published Perinatal HIV Treatment Guidelines on prescribing antiretroviral medications (ARVs) during pregnancy. In 1994, the guidelines just addressed the use of zidovudine, then the only drug approved to treat HIV infection. But by 2008 the prescribing guidelines for pregnant women were updated to recommend the use of triple ARVs, regardless of the woman’s HIV disease status. Pregnant women are typically excluded from studies testing newer drugs until safety has been established in nonpregnant adults. As a result, this data is usually some of the last to be collected.

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“The guidelines change nearly annually,” says Powis, who is also an assistant professor of Pediatrics at Harvard Medical School (HMS). “And a lot of the treatments that doctors are already using simply had ‘insufficient data’ to recommend their use in pregnant women. But doctors were prescribing them anyway.”

Since many of these regimens (70%) were eventually recommended for pregnant women, Powis suggests that doctors may be prescribing “ahead of time.” That is, they are seeing promising therapeutic results in the general population, and prescribing HIV drug treatment combinations to pregnant women based on that experience, rather than on guidelines.

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Even with early treatment, HIV still attacks young brains, says MSU study

While early antiretroviral therapy, or ART, has ensured less deadly outcomes for children living with and exposed to HIV, studies show the virus still may affect the brain. HIV may disrupt neurodevelopment, affecting how children learn, reason and function.

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While early antiretroviral therapy, or ART, has ensured less deadly outcomes for children living with and exposed to HIV, studies show the virus still may affect the brain. HIV may disrupt neurodevelopment, affecting how children learn, reason and function.

That’s why Michael Boivin, professor and director of the Psychiatry Research Program in the Michigan State University College of Osteopathic Medicine, set out to understand exactly how HIV impacts children’s neuropsychological development in a two-year longitudinal study, published in Clinical Infectious Diseases.

The research was supported in part by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health.

Boivin and his colleagues evaluated the neuropsychological development of three groups of children aged 5 to 11: those who acquired HIV perinatally and were treated with ART, those exposed but HIV-negative, and those who were never exposed. The research took place at six study sites across four countries in sub-Saharan Africa for a robust view of how HIV is affecting children in the region.

To date, it’s the first well-validated, multi-site neuropsychological evaluation of African school-aged children affected by HIV.

What the researchers discovered through various assessments was that even in the face of early treatment and good clinical care, there are still significant neuropsychological problems for children living with HIV.

“These children came into the study with a deficit compared to their counterparts,” Boivin said. “It stayed about the same throughout the two years, except in one important area: reasoning and planning. On that specific test domain, the children living with HIV failed to progress over time.”

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In other words, the gap between infected and HIV-negative children grew in the planning and reasoning area over the study period. Typically, these abilities tend to blossom in the school-aged years in healthy children.

“This is the most important cognitive function for the future of children living with HIV in terms of their likelihood of taking their medications, making good decisions, abstaining from risky behaviors like early sexual activity, psychosocial issues and school-related achievement,” Boivin said.

The bottom line? Early medical treatment, started as early as 6 months of age, is probably not enough to address the neurocognitive deficits associated with HIV, even though it helps keep children alive and healthier than they would be without treatment. In these children, treatment should be started even earlier to improve long-term neurocognitive outcomes.

“We’re going to have to complement the long-term care and support with actual behavioral interventions,” Boivin said.

That’s something Boivin and his colleagues are already working on. Earlier this year, Boivin received a 5-year, $3.2 million NIH grant to continue his work with children affected by HIV in Uganda and Malawi.

Through this grant, researchers will investigate how MSU-developed computer cognitive games can serve as tools for neurocognitive evaluation, enrichment and potentially rehabilitation.

Boivin hopes that the results of both of these studies will help make this model of neuropsychological evaluation a considered part of the cost benefit of care for kids affected by HIV.

“Often it’s overlooked or seen as an afterthought, but unlike other areas of medical follow up, neuropsychological evaluation really gets at how well the kids are going to adapt and function in school, at home, in the community and in society in general,” Boivin said. “It’s really what links us most directly to the human burden of disease.”

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Addressing perceived stigma about HIV preventive meds key to helping women at risk

While women make up nearly one in five of all new HIV infections, PrEP is largely underutilized by women who are at risk for infection and little is known about the role of stigma among women.

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Stigma is an important contributor to the continued HIV epidemic in the United States. While pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a medication that can be taken to prevent HIV infection, previous research has shown that a barrier preventing gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men from using PrEP is fear that partners, family members or community members would believe that those who use PrEP are HIV infected. Less is known, however, about these factors among women.

While women make up nearly one in five of all new HIV infections, PrEP is largely underutilized by women who are at risk for infection and little is known about the role of stigma among women. A new study that includes a team from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing (Penn Nursing), the New York Blood Center, and The CUNY School of Medicine at the City College of New York advances scientific knowledge about how stigma about PrEP use may affect whether or not a woman at elevated risk for HIV infection is interested in starting PrEP.

“Advancing our understanding of factors that influence uptake of PrEP among women is a critical goal, given how significantly underutilized PrEP is among women at risk for HIV infection in the United States,” says Penn Nursing’s Anne M. Teitelman, PhD, FNP, FAAN, Associate Professor of Nursing, and one of the study’s investigators. Results of the study “PrEP Stigma, HIV Stigma, and Intention to Use PrEP Among Women in New York City and Philadelphia,” will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Stigma and Health.

Funded by the National Institutes of Health, the study Just4Us Study surveyed 160 women aged 18-55 years in Philadelphia and New York City, cities which have high HIV infection rates. The researchers used a scale developed specifically for women that includes an item of particular sociohistorical importance to people of color, low-income women and other marginalized groups of women. Higher stigma about PrEP use, but not stigma about HIV, was significantly associated with lower intention to start PrEP among the women who participated in the study.

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The study recommends different ways to design behavioral interventions that specifically address PrEP stigma among women. They include:

-Expand public messaging to increase PrEP awareness and knowledge among women; -Include messaging that addresses the role of PrEP stigma and challenges stereotyped beliefs about women PrEP users; and -Design interventions that integrate stigma reduction at the individual and community levels.

“The next steps to address this gap are to use these findings to guide intervention development and to rigorously evaluate these interventions,” said Teitelman.

Co-authors of the study include: Beryl A. Koblin, Bridgette M. Brawner, and Annet Davis, all of the University of Pennsylvania; Deepti Chittamuru, of the University of California Merced; Victoria Frye, of the City University of New York; and Hong Van Tieu, of the New York Blood Center.

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