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Lead by example on World AIDS Day
Lead by example on World AIDS Day
by Stephen J. Fallon, Ph.D. - SGN Contributing Writer

There's something sort of overwhelming about World AIDS Day, December 1. How can any of us wrap our minds around a disease that infects 4 million people worldwide each year, and threatens the health of 47 million - mostly untreated - who are living with the virus today, according to the Joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS?

The theme for World AIDS Day 2007 is "Leadership." Yet the average Gay American does not have the means to make a significant contribution to the fight against HIV/AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa, or the Caribbean.

HIV/AIDS also impacts our own communities here at home. A recent Centers for Disease Control study found that one in five Gay or Bisexual white men in major cities is living with HIV; among minority men who have sex with men, nearly half were infected.

What can you do to make a difference? Think globally but act locally. World AIDS Day Global Steering Committee member Linda Hartke said, "Leadership can imply the power and authority to make a difference, to lead by action and example." Here are some actions you can take to make a difference here at home.

If you're HIV negative:
Double-check your HIV status with a new HIV test. Three-quarters of younger Gay/Bisexual men who were HIV infected had not known their status; and 59 percent had expected their risk was low, according to another large CDC study. In many areas, today's HIV tests come in a simple oral swab that delivers preliminary results in just 20 minutes.

If you're living with HIV:
Go to a qualified HIV-specializing physician to track how well your body is holding the virus at bay. When the time is right to start taking HIV treatments, don't skip doses. People who take most of their doses on time are three to four times more likely to keep their virus under control than are inconsistent patients. Successful treatment also lowers the odds of your passing HIV if a condom ever breaks.

Your physician can also talk to you about new classes of treatments (CCR5 antagonists and integrase inhibitors), along with newer boosted protease inhibitors and non-nucleosides for those whose virus has developed resistance to these types of medicines.

If you're having sex:
Hookups, real time action, playing, no-strings-attached fun? You can still be a leader for World AIDS Day. Last week I gave a seminar at a clinic in Kentucky. One of the participants described how he and his partner had visited a bathhouse in Ft. Lauderdale on a vacation. A group of guys were lined up in the steam room for anonymous sex when one called out, "Hey, does anyone have any more condoms?"

That comment stuck with him enough for him to repeat the story these years later. And maybe it made a difference to any guys there who might have been planning to have unprotected sex in the bathhouse that day.

Lead by busting myths:
A new study of younger African American men who have sex with men found that nearly one third of the times that guys used condoms, they had made mistakes that could have allowed HIV to transmit. The most common mistakes were putting the condom on too late (after first entering someone during foreplay), taking it off too soon, or not pinching the air out of the tip of the condom.

These mistakes are common for all races and ages of Gay and Bisexual men, according to the larger POLARIS HIV seroconversion study. Up to 12 percent of men had bottomed without having their partners use condoms, or when condoms were used incorrectly.

Despite leading the way for better access to care, fairer laws, and more aggressive research to combat HIV/AIDS, the Gay community still harbors many myths that lead guys to perceive their own risks to be lower than they are. In the POLARIS study, some of the guys said that they skipped condoms because they believed HIV can't transmit through precum, or that HIV can only get in when there's rectal tearing.

HIV has been found in two-thirds of samples of precum drawn from HIV-positive men. Meanwhile, the epithelial lining of the rectum can absorb the virus even without any trauma present.

So for this World AIDS Day, you can be a leader by debunking myths and adopting safer habits to stop HIV's spread through our Gay community, or to control HIV in your own body.

Stephen Fallon is the President of Skills4, Inc., a healthcare and disease-prevention consulting firm that specializes in Gay lifestyle and health issues by providing treatment education workshops, prevention programming assistance, and grant-writing services to community organizations and health departments. Visit his website at www.skills4.org If you need sources for any medical information cited in his columns, e-mail him at sfallon@skills4.org.

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