2011 Year in Review: 10 Stories That Affected HIV/AIDS in Black America


Thirty years into the HIV/AIDS epidemic, we experienced a banner year for research in biomedical prevention, most notably around pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and "treatment as prevention." An expansion in treatment also stabilized the number of new infections.

 

But the epicenter of the domestic HIV epidemic remains in Black America. There has been an "alarming increase" in new cases among Black gay and bisexual men. And there are many funding disparities for Black women. Here are 10 stories we told you to watch in 2011. (Click here to read Part 1 and here to read Part 2 of the write-up we ran one year ago.) This is how they developed.

1. Funding for HIV/AIDS Programs

What we told you: Many economists predicted that the private sector would ramp up hiring, consumer spending would strengthen and state and federal agencies would increase HIV/AIDS funding.

What really happened: The economic outlook has barely improved, while the European debt crisis, Japanese tsunami and Middle East unrest and oil prices have taken their economic toll.  Recently President Obama announced another $50 million in funding for the Ryan White Care Act and AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP). ADAP waiting lists have decreased, but more than 4,300 people (pdf) still await treatment. Also: Congressional budget negotiations could jeopardize HIV/AIDS funding.

What we learned: The value of doing more with fewer resources, and collaborating and strategizing for sustainable funding.

2. The End of the HIV Travel Ban

What we told you: After 22 years, the federal government finally repealed the law barring HIV-positive visitors and immigrants from entering the country.

What really happened: The repeal sets the stage for the 2012 International AIDS Conference in Washington, D.C., which is overwhelmingly Black and has the highest HIV rate in the country.

What we learned: Repealing the ban will help remove stigma, foster communication and save lives.

3. Federal Funding for Syringe-Exchange Programs

What we told you: The ban prohibiting federal support for needle-exchange programs was finally lifted in 2009. HIV/AIDS advocates expected more funding for clean needles, a major step toward curbing the epidemic among injection drug users and in Black communities.

What really happened: The House Republican budget agreement for fiscal year 2012 reinstates the federal ban. Harm-reduction and HIV/AIDS advocates are furiously lobbying the Senate.

What we learned: Clean needles save lives. Reinstating the ban will cost millions of dollars in future HIV and hepatitis treatment.

4. The Rollout of Health-Care Reform

What we told you: The Affordable Care Act is the most important legislation benefiting people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA) that Congress has ever passed. This law will help many Black Americans--particularly those with low incomes and PLWHA--gain greater access to health care and treatment.

What really happened: The Supreme Court has announced that it will soon hear arguments on the constitutionality of the individual mandate.

What we learned: Health-care reform will likely form the cornerstone of the 2012 elections.

5. Implementing the National HIV/AIDS Strategy

What we told you: The Obama administration released the nation's first National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS). African Americans will become a priority as the government allocates resources to the highest-risk populations.

What really happened: The White House released detailed plans to implement the NHAS, spotlighting 12 cities with the highest HIV/AIDS prevalence. It also convened a new Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS.

What we learned: So far, so good, but we must keep the pressure on Congress and the White House.

6. Setbacks for Microbicides

What we told you: South African researchers reported a breakthrough in microbicide research at AIDS 2010 in Vienna. Experts believed that a vaginal-gel version of the antiretroviral (ARV) tenofovir could be marketed as early as 2013.

What really happened: The National Institutes of Health abruptly canceled its large-scale microbicide trial in late November. One of the tested gels failed to prevent infection.

What we learned: Scientists are unsure why the VOICE trial was unsuccessful. Research continues on microbicides, a vaginal ring and an anal microbicide gel.

7. Promising Vaccine Research

What we told you: Scientists were hopeful after HIV antibodies were discovered in the cells of a 65-year-old HIV-positive Black gay man known as Donor 45.

What really happened: Research continues on the Donor 45 approach, as well as on exciting new vaccine concepts in Africa and at the University of Maryland. The latter team is led by Robert C. Gallo, M.D., the scientist who codiscovered HIV and later developed the first HIV test.

What we learned: The HIV vaccine eludes researchers but would be the gold standard in prevention.

8. Preparations for PrEP

What we told you: Taking a daily ARV pill to reduce HIV risk--known as PrEP--has shown up to 73 percent efficacy in preventing HIV transmission among men who have sex with men (MSM).

What really happened: "Groundbreaking findings" in two clinical trials demonstrated that PrEP was effective for heterosexual couples. San Francisco will soon become the first city in the nation to offer PrEP to MSM. And Gilead Sciences has sought government approval to market Truvada as PrEP.

What we learned: PrEP could become a valuable prevention tool for Blacks, particularly MSM.

9. Social Media Campaigns Target Audiences

What we told you: Social media would change HIV prevention.

What really happened: Dynamic new social media and marketing campaigns have been launched to target Black MSM, Black women and straight Black men.

What we learned: Government and nonprofit HIV/AIDS organizations are quickly integrating social media into prevention platforms.

10. The Berlin Patient

What we told you: German doctors discovered that an HIV-positive man with leukemia was "cured" of HIV infection when he received a transplant of genetically engineered stem cells.

What really happened: The donor stem cells were resistant to HIV.

What we learned: Less than 1 percent of White people in Northern and Western Europe carry the genetic rare mutation that makes them naturally resistant to HIV infection. Black people do not carry the gene and cannot receive those stem cells. A similar "cure," therefore, is impossible not only for them but also for the larger population. Still, the case raises the possibility of using stem cells to destroy HIV cells.

Rod McCullom has written and produced for ABC News and NBC, and his reporting and analysis have appeared in Ebony, the Advocate, ColorLines, The Body and other media. McCollum blogs on politics, pop culture and Black gay news at rod20.com.