World AIDS Day: Fighting the Stigma Is Half the Battle

RibbonThey say words can never hurt you, but in certain parts of the world, there are three letters that can take away everything dear to you: HIV.

Can you imagine having your family disown you? What if doctors refused to treat you, even with basic care? What would it feel like if you were not allowed to pursue any form of education? How about if you had no possibility of a future with a romantic partner?


We will never make strides in preventing HIV transmission until we confront the taboos that surround it.


This is reality for millions of men, women, and children in sub-Saharan Africa who have been diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. As of 2013, that number was 24.7 million, which accounts for the vast majority of the world’s total reported cases, which by 2014 approached 37 million people, 2.6 million of whom were children. In 2013 alone, 1.5 million sub-Saharan Africans were newly infected. Since the first case was reported in 1981, a certain stigma has always lingered around the disease. Many in the United States refer to it as the “gay disease” or accuse those infected of bestiality. They may say that someone who has been diagnosed should avoid intimacy, believing that a person with HIV is incapable of functional relationships without infecting their partner. In Africa, the implications are even more harsh. Often believed to be a “curse from God,” many regions exile an infected person from their community.

Worse, the stigma does not stop with individuals. It bleeds into the legal, political, and economic arenas as well. This is true worldwide. Some places have prosecuted women for transmitting the virus to their child, or have prosecuted individuals for not disclosing their positive status even if they have reached an undetectable viral load through antiretroviral therapy (ART). The discrimination surrounding a positive diagnosis is cited as the primary hurdle in addressing prevention and care. Continue reading

The Condom Broke. Now What?

oopsProtecting yourself with barriers like condoms is an important part of keeping yourself healthy when you and your partner don’t know one another’s STD status. Condoms are also great for pregnancy prevention. You can improve their effectiveness by learning how to put them on correctly, using a generous amount of lubricant, and checking their expiration dates.

But, sometimes, despite your best intentions, condoms break.

When that happens, you might wonder about your vulnerability to sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). And, if pregnancy is a possibility, you might also be concerned about sperm meeting egg. Luckily, there are still options. One, getting tested for STDs can help you receive treatment, if needed, in a timely manner. Two, if you act quickly, you can still take steps to minimize the risk of certain STDs or help avert an unwanted pregnancy.

Don’t let a broken condom immobilize you with fear! Take matters into your own hands, and learn what to do if a condom breaks.

How long does it take after a potential exposure until an STD test is likely to be accurate?

The answer to this question is: It varies. Each STD has a different “window period,” that is, the time it takes for an infection to be detectable. Some STDs can be tested for within days (if symptoms are present), while other STDs can take months to show up on a test. Also, while you might be inclined to wait and see if symptoms show up, remember that most STDs don’t have symptoms at all! When infections don’t have symptoms, they are said to be “asymptomatic.”

Check out this handy chart to see how long it takes for symptoms to appear, how common asymptomatic infections are, and how soon you should be tested.  Continue reading

World AIDS Day: The Affordable Care Act Can Help in Creating the Healthiest Generation Ever

HIV_stopEditor’s Note: The following piece is a guest blog post from Planned Parenthood Arizona President and CEO Bryan Howard.

Yesterday was World AIDS Day and this year, as we work to raise awareness around HIV and gather support for those who are living with HIV/AIDS, we should also take a moment to recognize the profound impact that the Affordable Care Act will have on prevention, detection, and treatment of HIV/AIDS.


One in 5 people with HIV is unaware of his or her infection.


With the Affordable Care Act, 1.1 million Americans living with HIV will no longer be denied health insurance coverage because HIV is a “pre-existing condition.” More people living with HIV/AIDS will have access to affordable health insurance coverage to get the care they need, and millions of Americans will have access to preventive health care services that include HIV testing without a co-pay.

There is no doubt that we have come a long way in the fight against HIV/AIDS, especially given the advances of the ACA, yet the epidemic continues to affect millions of people throughout the world with some communities impacted more than others. In the United States, more than 56,000 people become infected with HIV each year. About one-third of new HIV cases are in young people, ages 13 to 29.

According to the Arizona Department of Health Services, there are more than 15,000 Arizonans living with HIV/AIDS with some of the highest rates in Maricopa and Pima counties.

As the largest nonprofit sexual health care provider in Arizona, Planned Parenthood is committed to reducing the impact of the HIV/AIDS epidemic by providing nonjudgmental, comprehensive, high-quality reproductive health care to all women, men, and young people.

Planned Parenthood Arizona has health centers throughout Arizona that provide a range of health care services, including HIV testing, STD testing and treatment, cancer screenings, birth control, vaccinations, and primary care. We also serve as an expert resource in medically accurate sexuality education.

As a trusted health care provider and sexual health educator, we strive to educate women, men, and young people about how to prevent HIV and other STDs. In addition to diligent condom use and regular STD screening, practicing abstinence and having one partner who has no other intimate partners can also help to reduce the risk of getting an STD (including HIV).

So, today I ask you to join Planned Parenthood in fighting for the healthiest generation ever.

About Bryan Howard: Bryan Howard is president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona and a board member at Reproductive Health Technology Project, a Washington, D.C.-based research organization.

AIDS Denialism: Conspiracy Theories Can Kill

This scanning electron micrograph from 1989 reveals HIV particles (colored green) emerging from an infected cell. Image: CDC’s C. Goldsmith, P. Feorino, E.L. Palmer, W.R. McManus

We’ve all heard various conspiracy theories; we may or may not find them credible, and we might chalk up opposing viewpoints to simple differences in opinion. Sometimes, however, conspiratorial narratives are woven around matters of life and death — and in such cases, the spread of such ideas can influence dangerous changes in behavior and even government policy.

AIDS denialism is based on the idea that human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) does not cause AIDS. Although the existence of HIV and its causal connection to AIDS has been thoroughly demonstrated by scientists, denialists either reject the existence of HIV altogether, or cast it as a harmless virus that doesn’t cause illness. Denialism often relies upon rhetorical strategies that are superficially convincing but intellectually hollow, including the cherry-picking of evidence, appeals to unreliable “experts,” and untestable claims. Denialists also might cite early AIDS research from the mid-1980s while ignoring more up-to-date findings and improved medical procedures. Such rhetoric creates a sense of legitimate debate in an area where there is none, and the only new evidence welcomed into the discourse is that which confirms preconceived notions.


Health decisions must be shaped by the best available evidence, and when denialism misinforms, one cannot make an informed decision.


If AIDS isn’t caused by HIV, what do denialists claim is behind the unique symptoms that characterize it? Some say that conditions such as malnutrition, or diseases that have been around for a long time, are simply being labeled as AIDS. Other denialists cast antiretroviral drugs as the cause, rather than the preventive treatment, of AIDS. Some claim that AIDS is caused by behavior, such as drug use or promiscuity — with some even saying that an accumulation of semen in the anus can cause AIDS. None of the claims is true — while AIDS can leave someone vulnerable to a wide variety of diseases, and while sharing IV equipment and engaging in unprotected sex can increase risk, there is only one cause: HIV. Continue reading

“I Didn’t Want to Believe It”: Lessons from Tuskegee 40 Years Later

Located among longleaf pine and hardwood trees, low ridges, and broad floodplains, Tuskegee, Alabama, is a small town that’s been a big part of American history. Despite a modest population of less than 10,000 people, Tuskegee has been able to boast many notable residents who have made names for themselves in everything from sports to the arts. Among them have been the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American Air Force unit, which served during World War II, and Rosa Parks, the icon of the civil rights movement, who sparked the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955.


The Tuskegee syphilis experiment, conducted from 1932 to 1972, examined the natural progression of untreated syphilis in poor, rural black men — without their informed consent.


Tuskegee, though, is also remembered for one of the worst chapters in the history of medical research. Forty years ago, in 1972, newspapers revealed the story of a syphilis study that was callous in its deception of research participants, and damaging, even today, in the distrust it sowed among black Americans. The study had started another 40 years prior, in 1932, when the United States Public Health Service (USPHS) needed to rescue a financially troubled syphilis intervention in Macon County, Alabama. The intervention was first established in partnership with a Chicago-based philanthropic organization, but its future was uncertain when the organization’s funds dried up during the Great Depression.

Syphilis, the sexually transmitted disease caused by the bacterium Treponema pallidum, was the subject of conflicting scientific hypotheses at the time, including the hypothesis that the disease behaved differently in blacks and whites. Interested in testing those hypotheses and faced with disappearing funds for treatment, the USPHS turned its project into a study of untreated syphilis. Also influencing the decision was the fact that the USPHS was discouraged by the low cure rate of the treatments at the time, mercury and bismuth. But by the mid-1940s, penicillin was in use as a proven treatment for syphilis. In spite of that medical advance, the USPHS withheld treatment from a total of 399 infected patients by the time the study ended in 1972. Continue reading

Mexico, the United States, and HIV: It’s Complicated

from http://ipv6.dhs.gov/journal/leadership/2008/10/state-of-immigration.htmlDuring my last semester of college, I took an Introduction to Chicana Studies class in which I read a lot about HIV transmission between the United States and Mexico. In the book we used, Latina Activists Across Borders, activists in Michoacán argue that women are infected with HIV by men who migrate to the United States and then bring it back to Mexico. While there is a lot of truth to that, the way our two countries interact on this issue is a little bit more complicated.


We need to have a more complex conversation about migration and HIV/AIDS than the one we’re having.


Often, HIV is constructed as something that is spread between “immoral” people. When it comes to transnational transmission, the country the disease comes from is seen as “immoral” or “dirty.” In the United States, we have just as many beliefs about HIV coming into the country from Mexico as the other way around. But who is right?

The answer — both/neither. Less than 1 percent of the adult Mexican population is HIV positive — that’s half the rate in the United States. According to USAID, population mobility is a big factor in HIV transmission. In Tijuana and Juarez, where HIV/AIDS rates are the highest, a large part of the population comes from South America and southern parts of Mexico. In Zacatecas and Michoacán, more than 1 in 5 people who has AIDS had lived in the United States prior to infection. Continue reading

Let’s Talk Contraception: Female Condoms, Another Contraceptive Choice

Are you or your partner allergic to latex? Does your male partner not like to use condoms, or does he want to try something that may feel less restrictive? Would you like to decrease the risk of skin-to-skin transmission of viruses, such as those that cause genital warts or herpes? Do you feel that putting on condoms distracts from the spontaneity of sex? You might be interested in learning about female condoms.


September 12 is Global Female Condom Day.


The female condom, available as the brand name FC2, is a barrier contraceptive that was developed with the dual purpose of allowing women contraceptive control and providing  protection against pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV.

You do not need a prescription or to see a health care provider to get the FC2 — it’s available for sale just like male condoms.

As with other contraceptive methods, it is not foolproof, but when used properly and consistently it is 79 to 95 percent effective in preventing pregnancy. Also, its shape and design allows less skin-to-skin contact where diseases may spread.

The first female condoms were made of polyurethane. The new FC2 is now made of a thin, flexible nitrile sheath with an open ring at one end that covers the outside of the genital area and a smaller closed ring on the end that is inserted in the vagina. Inside the sheath is a silicone lubricant. Because the condom is not latex, it can also be used with any kind of additional lubricant and by those allergic to latex. Continue reading