Monthly Archives: March 2018

Female Condoms: Difficult to find in the US, easy to get in UK.

Female condoms are an alternative to regular condoms. They provide pretty much the same great protection from pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs). What’s different about them? Instead of going on the penis, female condoms go inside your vagina for pregnancy prevention or into the vagina or anus for protection from STDs.

There are hundreds of different kinds of male condoms for sale in the US, but only one female condom and you need a prescription to get it. Female condoms are almost as effective as male condoms, so why are they so hard to find in the US?

At LASS, we’ve been providing female condoms for over 10 years, and when we mention them at our training events or offer them to individuals who test for HIV at LASS, they are often surprised at their existence.

The situation isn’t as bad in the UK compared to America as the above video from Vox describes but publication and awareness of female condoms isn’t as readily available as their male counterparts, (even in the UK) and we want to change that!

Female condoms have been around since the 1980’s, when a Danish doctor named Lasse Hessel came up with a prototype. However, the media ridiculed it, comparing it to a plastic bag.

Female condoms have never been marketed very well and stigma over a sexual health aid still hangs around to the point that in the US last year, the company that manufactures them stopped selling them in stores and changed to a prescription-only model, so indivuals in the states need to see a doctor, just to get a condom.

That’s backwards thinking and we say they are just as valid as male condoms to help prevent STIs (including HIV) Another excellent reason for using female condoms is they’re the only women -initiated method of planning and actively pursuing safer sex. Many say they’re preferable for anal sex too!

How do female condoms work?

Female condoms (also called internal condoms) are little nitrile (soft plastic) pouches that you put inside your vagina. They cover the inside of your vagina, creating a barrier that stops sperm from reaching an egg. If sperm can’t get to an egg, you can’t get pregnant. The female condom also helps prevent sexually transmitted infections.  Female condoms aren’t just birth control — they also reduce the risk of sexually transmitted infections.

Female condoms help prevent STIs by covering the inside of your anus, vagina, and some parts of your vulva. This decreases your chance of coming in contact with semen or skin that can spread STIs.

Unlike in the United States as the above video shows, female condoms are becoming easier to find online, in stores, and at family planning centers. And you don’t need a prescription or ID to buy them. They’re a small, discreet, and portable way to get big protection from pregnancy and STDs.

We provide them freely at LASS, since all the other condoms out there are worn on a penis, many female condom fans love that there’s a condom they can control. Female condoms let you take charge of your sexual health. Even if your partner doesn’t want to wear a condom, you can still protect yourself.

You can also buy them online, here’s a couple of links from Amazon (Pasante) (Velvet)

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Life Insurance & HIV. What’s happening now?

Research published last year revealed that young people receiving the latest HIV drugs now have a “near-normal” life expectancy. [Read that article here]

Yet despite such profound changes in the health of people with the conditions, one in four say they have been refused a financial product or quoted an unaffordable insurance premium in the past five years.

Life insurance customers who are HIV positive are now able to take out longer term policies, with premiums remaining stable, new research has shown.

Figures from Unusual Risks, the medical financial advisers, showed HIV positive men and women were taking out life insurance in the UK and insuring themselves for an average of £125,933.

The average term for policies taken between 2009 and 2013 was only 10 years but it is now possible to get a term of between 15 and 25 years.

“The average sum assured has remained fairly stable for HIV Life Assurance over the last few years, at between £125,000 and £130,000,” said Chris Morgan, lead financial adviser of Unusual Risks, Mortgage & Insurance Services.

“The products have become established and premiums have remained stable. That is due to there being several product providers that now offer life insurance to people living with HIV.

“Due to the complex nature of the underwriting of HIV Life Assurance and the range of different policies, premiums and terms available it is advisable to seek specialist professional advice before taking out HIV Life Assurance. It is not a product that can be bought instantly and directly via online money and insurance websites.”

Alan Lakey from CI Expert, said the number of insurers who will accept customers with HIV had increased hugely in recent years.

“Interestingly, some of the insurers offer cover but don’t shout about it,” he said. “Some big names now offer HIV cover but don’t publicise it until you ask.”

Enjoyed this article, you may ENJOY this one too?

Greg Louganis,two-time Olympic Gold Champion. On life and HIV.

I sold my life insurance. My insurance policy actually showed up on the show “American Greed”! Which was fascinating. They reached out to me: “Well, this 92-year-old woman in Florida bought your life insurance policy.” Oh my god, I felt so bad. And when I did the interview, they produced a document that was notarized and signed by my previous doctor saying that I only had a maximum of six months to live. It was so devastating. That was a good reason why he’s not my doctor anymore [laughs].

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Getting on Track in Agenda 2030

A new report released today by the Global Forum on MSM and HIV (MSMGF) in collaboration with the Global Platform to Fast Track the Human Rights and HIV Responses with Gay and Bisexual Men and the Free Space Process argues for consistent and robust reporting on HIV in the Voluntary National Reviews on Sustainable Development.

Titled “Getting on Track in Agenda 2030,” the report is released ahead of regional meetings commencing this month in preparation of the annual High Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development. The report calls upon UN agencies, Member States, and members of civil society to collaboratively ensure HIV-related data is included in the framework of Agenda 2030.

The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and accompanying 169 Targets in Agenda 2030 for Sustainable Development include a commitment to end the epidemic of AIDS by 2030. This is monitored by an agreed upon indicator for the number of new HIV infections per 1,000 uninfected population by sex, age, and key population, which includes gay men and other men who have sex with men, people who inject drugs, sex workers, and transgender people. This commitment is aligned with the UNAIDS Fast-Track strategy to end the epidemic by 2030.

The international mechanism for review of progress on the SDGs is the annual High Level Political Forum (HLPF), which includes a thematic review of selected SDGs, side events, the adoption of a Ministerial Declaration, and the Voluntary National Review (VNR) of SDG implementation by Member States. 48 countries will participate in the VNR process this year at the HLPF at UN headquarters in New York from July 9 – 18.

Among the 43 VNR reports submitted by Member States in 2017, only 32 VNR reports included any mention of HIV. Coverage of HIV is inconsistent and uneven across VNR reports, with most reports referring to aggregate HIV prevalence or incidence in the general population. Only nine VNR reports mentioned key populations, and even fewer refer to HIV-related stigma and discrimination. MSMGF believes this is not enough to meet Fast-Track and SDG targets, and more coordinated action and commitment is necessary.

MSMGF Senior Policy Advisor, Stephen Leonelli, commented:

“There remains unfinished business in the global HIV response, including persistent health disparities, stigma, and discrimination. HIV continues to severely impede the ability of countries to achieve development priorities beyond health, and continued visibility and integration of HIV within mainstream development goals has never been more important.”

The report finds that civil society and community representatives were essential in shaping the content around HIV issues in many VNR reports in 2017. Thus, we encourage civil society members to continue advocating during 2018 VNR national consultations.

The report also highlights:

  • HIV-related data and topics included in 32 VNR reports from 2017.
  • Efforts and effective strategies of eight activists across six countries who participated in 2017 VNR national consultation processes.
  • Potential sources of HIV-related data that could and should be utilized by Member States to feed into VNR reports.
  • Main entry points for civil society to participate in national VNR processes, including guidelines for preparing civil society spotlight or status reports, and how to leverage Major Groups and international non-profit organizations to influence the content of VNR reports and the Ministerial Declaration.

In order to end the epidemic, Member States must show the political will to proactively and meaningfully engage civil society and communities, especially key population-led organizations. HIV must be addressed as a cross-cutting a development challenge, and all stakeholders must realize that fulfilling the SDGs and ensuring the principle of “leaving no one behind” will require more effort to include HIV-related data and national HIV priorities.

About MSMGF
The Global Forum on MSM & HIV (MSMGF) was founded in 2006 at the Toronto International AIDS Conference by an international group of activists concerned about the disproportionate HIV disease burden being shouldered by men who have sex with men worldwide. Today, they are an expanding network of advocates and experts in sexual health, human rights, research, and policy, working to ensure an effective response to HIV among gay men and other men who have sex with men. MSMGF watchdogs public health policies and funding trends; strengthens local advocacy capacity through our programs initiatives; and supports more than 120 community-based organizations across 62 countries who are at the frontlines of the HIV response.

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We really can beat HIV!

In October 2017, Public Health England reported an 18% drop in the numbers of people diagnosed with HIV in 2016 – this includes 18% fewer diagnoses among people of black African ethnicity compared to 2015.

This was the first time that we’ve had such a significant drop and it is was all down to a combination of things we can all do to make a difference.

New ways to stop the spread of HIV

The HIV epidemic started more than 30 years ago but recently there have been some big changes which we want to share with you and make sure everyone knows about. The number of HIV infections is starting to come down in some areas and this is down to a combined approach to stopping HIV. It’s no longer JUST about condoms, HIV treatment is now a part of our armoury against HIV – and part of protected sex.

Here’s how:

1) Treatment as Prevention (TasP)

If someone is on effective HIV treatment and has an ‘undetectable viral load’ they cannot pass on HIV. (The viral load is the amount of HIV measured in a blood test – most clinics in the UK classify undetectable as being below 20 copies/ml.)

We are saying this based on findings from the PARTNER study which looked at 888 gay and straight couples (and 58,000 sex acts) where one partner was HIV positive and on effective treatment and one was HIV negative. Results found that where the HIV positive partner had an undetectable viral load, there were no cases of HIV transmission whether they had anal or vaginal sex without a condom. It can take up to six months from starting treatment to become undetectable.

What this means: This is exciting news as it means treatment is a new way to stop the spread of HIV. Don’t forget though that sex without a condom still means you can get or pass on another sexually transmitted infection (STI) and can result in a pregnancy.

2) Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)

PrEP is a course of HIV drugs taken by an HIV negative person who is at risk of getting HIV to lower their chance of becoming infected. When taken correctly, PrEP significantly reduces the chances of becoming HIV positive.

In England PrEP is not currently available on the NHS routinely, although 10,000 people will be taking it as part of the IMPACT trial, which started this autumn. In Scotland and Wales PrEP is available on the NHS.

What this means: If you are likely to be exposed to HIV, PrEP is another way to protect yourself.

3) Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP)

PEP is a month-long course of HIV medication taken by an HIV negative person after possible exposure to reduce the chance of getting HIV. When started in time (within 72 hours, but within 24 hours is best) PEP can stop HIV infection after sex without a condom (or other exposure) with someone who is infectious – but it does not work every time.

What this means: PEP is the third way HIV treatment can be used to protect yourself, a doctor will assess whether you will be eligible or not depending on the risk taken.

Testing and treatment saves lives

In terms of stopping HIV this new information is monumental and the facts show that people power can dramatically reduce HIV transmissions. Regular testing means more people with HIV will be diagnosed and taking treatment – so they will be less likely to become ill and less likely to pass on HIV.

Despite the good news of a drop in HIV rates, 54% of newly diagnosed black African people were diagnosed late in 2016, which means they will have an increased risk of developing an AIDS-defining illness. The British HIV Association (BHIVA) recommends everyone with HIV starts treatment when they are diagnosed. This is because a study called START found that starting straight away significantly reduced people’s chances of developing AIDS-related illnesses.

So the problem we have is that although lots of us are being diagnosed and getting onto treatment in time, an even bigger proportion are finding out they have HIV at a point where their immune systems have been damaged. Regular testing is the linchpin of reducing late diagnoses and keeping people well.

Additionally, people are extremely infectious when they are first infected with HIV which is why early diagnosis is so important – if you are on effective treatment and have an undetectable viral load you cannot pass on HIV.

The Simple Science

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It was identified in the early 1980s and belongs to a group of viruses called retroviruses.

HIV uses your CD4 cells to reproduce, destroying them in the process. These are important cells which co-ordinate your immune system to fight off illnesses and infections. As the number declines, you may not have enough to keep your immune system working properly. At the same time the amount of HIV in your body (the ‘viral load’) will usually increase.

Without treatment your immune system will not be able to work properly and protect you from ‘opportunistic infections’.

Effective treatment will mean your CD4 count increases and your viral load decreases – hopefully to ‘undetectable’ levels.

The viral load test shows how much HIV is in your body by measuring how many particles of HIV are in a blood sample. The results are given as the number of ‘copies’ of HIV per millilitre of blood – for example 200 copies/ml.

An ‘undetectable’ viral load does not mean there is no HIV present – HIV is still there but in levels too low for the laboratory test to pick up. Different laboratories may have different cut off points when classifying an undetectable viral load, however most clinics in the UK classify undetectable as being below 20 copies/ml.

Modern HIV treatment means that many people with HIV are living long, healthy lives and if you’re taking HIV medication and have an undetectable viral load you cannot pass on HIV.

Getting tested

Our Rapid HIV testing service is available Monday-Friday between 9am – 4pm.  You do not need an appointment.

The test is performed at our office on Regent Road, Leicester by qualified and experienced HIV testers.  The process usually takes around 20 minutes.

The test is free to ‘at risk groups’ and always confidential.  If you’re not at risk, we can refer you to an alternative service who will be able to provide you with a free HIV test.  You can still test with us for £20 or you may prefer a free Home Sampling kit or buy a Home Testing kit from BioSure for £29.95.  You can also find details of other testing services by clicking here.

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