Sept 27 Is Gay Men's HIV/AIDS Awareness Day
On Sept. 27, the second annual National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, we pause to mourn the hundreds of thousands of gay and bisexual men who have died with AIDS, and we strengthen our resolve to end this terrible scourge.
In the early years of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in the United States, the virus wreaked most of its initial devastation in this community, cutting short the promising lives of numerous young people and causing heartbreak among the friends and family members of those who became infected and had no good medicines to fight the virus. Since the disease was first recognized in the early 1980s, more than 487,000 gay and bisexual men in the United States have been diagnosed with AIDS,1 and more than 274,000 have died.2
The epidemic continues to affect gay and bisexual men to a degree that far surpasses their proportion of the U.S. population. Although only a small percentage of American men report having sex with other men, at the end of 2006, men who have sex with men accounted for 64 percent of all men in the United States living with HIV3 and more than half of all new U.S. HIV/AIDS infections.4
Despite these crushing losses and alarming statistics, the community of gay and bisexual men early on took responsibility for understanding the science of HIV/AIDS and has never wavered in its courageous advocacy for HIV/AIDS education, prevention and treatment.
Gay AIDS activists have fought vocally, tirelessly and successfully to widen access to new treatments and to participate in shaping the HIV/AIDS research agenda. By educating themselves about HIV/AIDS and arguing cogently for improvements to the status quo, gay activists gained a seat at the table to design HIV/AIDS studies. In so doing, they created a new model for the relationship between patients suffering from serious diseases and scientists developing and testing ways to better detect, treat and prevent these diseases.
Gay AIDS activists also influenced the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to create new accelerated approval regulations that give patients rapid access to new therapies to treat serious or life-threatening illnesses. In addition, the activists influenced FDA to give patients access to promising investigational drugs when satisfactory alternatives are unavailable and the patients cannot participate in controlled clinical trials. Individuals with many other serious diseases now benefit from these groundbreaking legacies of the AIDS movement.
Gay and bisexual men have been active participants in HIV/AIDS research, including that funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health. A good example is the Multicenter AIDS Cohort Study (MACS), the longest U.S. study of people with HIV/AIDS and one of the most rigorous and productive epidemiologic HIV/AIDS studies in history. Gay and bisexual men also have participated in NIAID clinical trials of antiretroviral drugs that were essential to developing life-saving treatments now available to millions of people with HIV.
Currently, gay and bisexual men are participating in NIAID’s first late-phase trial of a promising new HIV prevention method called pre-exposure prophylaxis, or PrEP. The idea behind PrEP is that HIV-negative people at high risk of becoming infected with the virus could take antiretroviral medications that may protect them from infection.
Among men who have sex with men, blacks are suffering from HIV/AIDS in disproportionately large numbers. To curb the spread of HIV in this population, NIAID, the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute of Mental Health, all part of NIH, are conducting a preliminary study through the HIV Prevention Trials Network to evaluate a multi-component intervention in more than 2,000 black men who have sex with men.
National Gay Men’s HIV/AIDS Awareness Day marks a time to honor the memories of those whose lives have been taken by this dreadful disease by recommitting ourselves to research to prevent and treat HIV/AIDS. I thank gay and bisexual men for their activism on behalf of people with HIV/AIDS and their commitment to participating in clinical HIV/AIDS research. We will not rest until we have ended the HIV/AIDS pandemic.