Tagged with HIV

Time to go home


The International AIDS Conference is drawing to a close and with it, so is my long overseas journey. Tomorrow I’m off to London, then Singapore, then Melbourne and home. I’m ready.

The conference has been amazing – there is much good work being done out there and I’ve found plenty to be inspired by, challenged by, and occasionally angered by. I’ve met some fantastic people, including this guy, this guy, this guy and lots of others who aren’t so easily linked to. Plus I’ve renewed a lot of friendships built up over previous conferences and events.

The two “big deals” out of this meeting for me are the microbicides breakthrough (of course) and the focus on criminalisation of HIV transmission/exposure, and the complex legal, ethical and public health challenges associated with that. I’ll be writing about those two for an upcoming issue of Positive Living.

As the meeting winds up, it would be easy to be dismissive of the prospects for anything to really change in the course of the HIV epidemic – to judge the event as long on talk and short on action – but I’ll suppress my usual cynicism and say that I do think these events make a difference, if only to remind those of us working in the field of how much remains to be done and how comprehensively the leaders of the world have failed to take decisive and meaningful action to save people’s lives.

We are making progress. We have new prevention technologies coming on line – the successful CAPRISA microbicide trial will be a milestone in the history of the HIV epidemic, and there is every reason to expect that research into pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and treatment-as-prevention will give us new prevention tools and the hope of a prevention paradigm that goes beyond the “just use condoms” message that I have argued is unsustainable in the long term.

Unfortunately, not a lot of this is getting through to the people who have the power to make decisions, and so often we see public policy driven by prejudice, fear and moralisation rather than evidence of what works. As Gill Greer, Director-General of IPPF, said in a session the other day, “when morality gets in the way of policy, the result is too often morbidity and mortality.”

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March for Human Rights at AIDS 2010


One of the perennial set-piece events for the International AIDS Conference is the big, colourful march through the centre of the host city demanding universal access/equal rights/new drugs/whatever the focus is on this time round. Last night’s event, marching through Vienna to Heroes’ Square, was no disappointment.

Many thousands of activists, advocates and people living with HIV made a loud, brash and joyous sight as they moved through the city. For me it’s the one moment of jubilation in a long week of scientific data and depressing news about the march of HIV in the developing world. This year we had extra cause to celebrate – the fantastic news this week about the success of a vaginal microbicide trial – and we made the most of that while working to highlight human rights issues. Will (above) decided he’d stand up for the human rights of African men’s foreskins.

Lots more photos on Flickr.

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Bill Gates and the Robin Hood Tax


Bill Gates, in a speech this afternoon to the XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna, speaking about the slow roll-out of HIV prevention and treatment efforts:

Two decades ago, the skeptics said: “We can’t make drugs to treat a virus.” But you persisted – and now they can. Then the skeptics said: “We can make the drugs, but we can’t make them cheap enough.” But you kept pushing – and now they do. Then the skeptics said: “We can make the drugs cheaply, but we don’t know whether people will stick to the regimen.” But you insisted – and now they know.

Gates gave a presser immediately after the speech, in which he was asked a question about the Robin Hood Tax, a tiny 0.05% tax on currency transactions that would raise at least $700 billion a year to help fund HIV treatments and prevention.

I don’t think that would work – I’ve heard a number of experts from the financial sector say they don’t think that would work. So no, I’m not in favour of the Robin Hood Tax. [1]

Aren’t those the same arguments he just criticised a few minutes before? Is he blind, hypocritical or just dumb?

Note 1. Not a direct quote, but an accurate representation of what Gates said. Sorry I didn’t get it down verbatim.

Photo above: Bill Gates © Paul Kidd 2010 – CC-BY-NC-SA license.

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The perfect storm


Last week’s arrest of an African-Australian circus acrobat accused of transmitting HIV to a Queensland woman has, predictably, generated more than its fair share of media excitement.

In some ways it’s this particular case represents is a kind of perfect storm for reporting about criminality and HIV transmission: not only does the alleged perpetrator conveniently come from deepest, darkest Africa (racism is well and truly alive) but he’s devastatingly handsome and has conveniently left a trail of news-ready shirtless photos and even video of his appearances on a TV talent show.

Plus, he has “admitted to having sex with a number of women in several states” (in other words, he’s cooperating with the police investigation, although you won’t hear it put that way in the press) so we readily have the ‘hunt for victims’ angle and the story gets to run for days and days as we get trickle-fed details about his life and the trail of broken hearts he has presumably left in his wake.

At this point it bears pointing out that one woman on the Gold Coast has tested HIV-positive; she is the complainant that led to the investigation and his subsequent arrest and extradition. It has not yet been proven that he is the source of her HIV infection, and he is entitled to the presumption of innocence until such time as it is.

But you might think differently if you don’t read the media carefully (emphasis added in the following quotes):

AN HIV-infected circus performer who had sex with up to 12 women without telling them of his medical history will appear in a Queensland court today, as health authorities continue to search for the women involved. (‘Zimbabwe-born acrobat to be tried for infecting women with HIV’, The Australian 26 May)

A HIV-positive circus acrobat who appeared on Australia’s Got Talent has triggered a national health scare after allegations he had unprotected sex with at least 11 women, including some from NSW. (‘Hunt is on for HIV man’s partners’, Daily Telegraph 26 May)

Authorities fear at least 12 women may have been deliberately infected with the HIV virus by a Zimbabwe-born circus acrobat. (‘Circus acrobat accused of spreading HIV appeared on Australia’s Got Talent’, Brisbane Times 26 May)

GODFREY Zaburoni allegedly boasted about sleeping with more than 500 women and sometimes brought home three different girls a week, says one of his former flatmates. (‘Zaburoni’s drunken boast of conquests’, Gold Coast Bulletin 27 May)

THE tragic story that dozens — possibly hundreds — of young women may have been infected with HIV by one man is a timely reminder that more education is needed of this deadly modern plague. (‘Awareness of AIDS will save lives’, Gold Coast Bulletin editorial, 27 May)

Mr Zaburoni’s Facebook page has more than 300 friends, many women. (‘HIV man’s claim: I had Vic lovers’, Herald Sun 30 May)

Is this the evolution of a moral panic? One woman has been confirmed HIV-positive, then within days there are 11, 12, dozens, hundreds of women imagined by the media to have been infected with HIV. Then to top it off we have the crucial detail that his Facebook profile “has more than 300 friends, many women.” So has mine, and probably yours.

CC-licensed image above: alien sex fiend by boogah.

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World AIDS Day launch

These are my remarks for the launch of World AIDS Day 2009 this morning at Parliament House in Melbourne.


Since its inception in 1988, World AIDS Day has provided a moment for all of us to reflect on the impact HIV has had in our lives and communities, to recommit ourselves to ending the HIV epidemic, and to remind the broader community that, while HIV may have almost disappeared from the headlines, it is still with us.

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AGM speech

Below is the text of my President’s address to the Annual General Meeting of People Living With HIV/AIDS Victoria, on 18 October 2009.

The last year has been a busy one for PLWHA Victoria, and there is much we can be proud of. Our organisation is strong, highly professional and our dedicated staff and volunteers deliver work of high quality that makes a real difference to people’s lives.

But I don’t want to use these few minutes listing our achievements: our Executive Officer, Sonny Williams, will cover the year’s activities in greater detail. You can also read about them in the Annual Report, which will be available at the end of this meeting.

Instead, I want to ask a question: why are we here?

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Glass Microbiology


British artist Luke Jerram’s glass sculptures of microbes including HIV, SARS, H1N1and smallpox are strikingly beautiful.

Says the artist:

These transparent glass sculptures were created to contemplate the global impact of each disease and to consider how the artificial colouring of scientific imagery affects our understanding of phenomena. Jerram is exploring the tension between the artworks’ beauty and what they represent, their impact on humanity.

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If It Bleeds It Leads

Yesterday I spoke at an ARCSHS forum on HIV and the media – Reckless Transmissions: Engaging with the news media around sexual health – along with Michael Hurley, Daniel Reeders and Abi Groves.

An interesting discussion looking at the way the media reports on HIV, especially the way gay men are presented as ‘complacent’ (Reeders) or, when they come before the law, as members of a ‘seedy underbelly’ or ‘sinister subculture’ (Hurley). My presentation focused on the ways that community organisations can try to have positive stories about people with HIV reported in the media, as a counter to all the ‘bad’ news. Abi Groves introduced the AFAO media guide, Reporting HIV in Australia: Information for Journalists 2009.

There will (probably) be a podcast of the event at some point in the future. In the meantime a copy of my slides is below in PDF form.


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“Every time we fuck, we win”


Image from faggotz.org, via Kellan on Facebook.

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I want a new drug

After nine years, two months and 11 days, yesterday I said goodbye to efavirenz. I’ve continued to have good results with this well-loved combination, but the side effects have finally worn me down.

Efavirenz causes most people who take it to have a range of central nervous system side effects – things like sleeplessness, vivid dreams, agitation and so on. It’s kind of like getting stoned, except not in a nice way and every single day. To combat this, you take the drug at bedtime which means at least you’re asleep when you’re fucked up, except when you’re lying in bed wide awake, which for me has been part of almost every night for the last nine years.

The official line is that these side effects usually go away after a few weeks, but for me they continued in one form or another for the whole time I was on the drug. Occasionally the effect can be moderately amusing, verging on lucid dreaming. Occasionally it can be deeply disturbing. Mostly its just annoying and often means I wake up more tired than I was when I went to bed. But I’m a stubborn bugger and I put up with what I felt were manageable side effects so that I could be sure of being on the best therapy available to combat my HIV. In those nine years I’ve never had a detectable viral load, so I’m pretty happy I stuck with it.

Lately it’s started to veer more towards the annoying/disturbing end of the spectrum. More than a few times lately I have woken in the night (or dreamt that I was awake – it’s hard to tell which) and been unable to remember who is the person in bed with me. I’m not interested in not knowing who my husband is, so I decided it’s time to change at last.

When I started that combination at the end of the last century, I was running out of treatment options and the efavirenz was really my last good chance – another reason I stuck with it. In the intervening period there’s been a bunch of new drugs come along, some good and some not so good, so I do have more options for the future, although almost all of them involve taking ritonavir, which I prefer not to.

With some forceful argument on my part, yesterday my doc agreed that the best option for me was etravirine, the new (not yet licensed) non-nucleoside being developed by Tibotec, so he got me onto the special access list.

It’ll be interesting over the next couple of weeks to feel the efavirenz wash out of my system and my fevered brain return to normal. I have a slight fear that after so long on this drug my brain will either have become addicted to the efavirenz (in which case I’ll go into withdrawal) or my brain chemistry will have been permanently altered by it (in which case I’ll have to put up with the symptoms anyway). But I have no reason to think these things beyond my normal paranoia.

So it’s goodbye to efavirenz and hello to etravirine from this point on. Hopefully I’ve made the right choice.

Hit it, Huey!

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