Tag Archives: hiv

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)

Thanks for reading, let us know what you think in the comments below, or you can find us on FacebookTwitter or Instagram!

bfb01    btw01    bin01

                  (Or subscribe to our newsletter)

Advertisements

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].

Thanks for reading, let us know what you think in the comments, or you can find us on FacebookTwitter or Instagram!

bfb01    btw01    bin01

                  (Or subscribe to our newsletter)

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.

Thanks for reading, let us know what you think in the comments below, or you can find us on FacebookTwitter or Instagram!

bfb01    btw01    bin01

                  (Or subscribe to our newsletter)

It’s 2018 and we still have HIV/AIDS denialism from “professionals”.

Kelly Brogan (Photo: Bryan Bedder)

This weekend, Lululemon-clad wellness aficionados descended on New York for the In Goop Health summit, where they learned about trendy workouts, nibbled on Instagram-worthy organic food, and heard from a doctor who doesn’t think HIV causes AIDS, despite conclusive science saying it does.

Article via Fast Company

As Jezebel reports, one of the featured speakers at the one-day conference was Dr. Kelly Brogan, a “holistic health psychiatrist,”who said back in 2014 that the idea that “HIV causes AIDS is a ‘meme’ brought upon us by the ‘medical-scientific-industrial marriage,’ and that ‘drug toxicity associated with AIDS treatment may very well be what accounts for the majority of deaths.’”

When Newsweek asked Brogan about it recently, she called the link between HIV and AIDS an “assumption.” Brogan also brought the world the article headlined, “Why you should stop taking your antidepressants” and pretty much argues against taking any and all medicine.

In short, she’s basically the medical world equivalent of a climate change denier, ignoring overwhelming research that HIV does cause AIDS.

Thanks for reading, let us know what you think in the comments below, or you can find us on FacebookTwitter or Instagram!

bfb01    btw01    bin01

                  (Or subscribe to our newsletter)

A gay man’s experience of using PEP (Emergency HIV medication)

In recent months I experienced something I never thought I’d have to deal with when I faced the possibility that I might have contracted HIV.

I have been sexually responsible for my entire adult life and have always been heavily influenced by warnings of the past regarding HIV and AIDS, however all it takes is one moment of passion to let your guard down and you can find yourself in a situation similar to mine which resulted in me taking the HIV emergency medication known as PEP. The days leading up to my 28-day treatment were possibly some of the scariest of my life. Experiencing this drug first hand and the people I encountered along the way brought on a variety of conflicting emotions and an understanding of sexual health I never thought I’d have to comprehend.

Story via Metro

What is PEP?

Post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is a month-long course of medication which aims to prevent HIV infection after the virus has potentially entered a person’s body. The drug is used as an emergency measure on a person who may have been exposed to the virus, either through infection or sexual transmission. Although PEP is not 100% guaranteed to always work, the success rate is very high. It’s very important to make clear that PEP should not be considered an alternative to using condoms as prevention for contracting HIV. Using condoms is the most effective method of preventing HIV transmission as well as other sexually transmitted diseases.

The drug should also not be viewed as some form of a morning after pill either – PEP is a powerful drug and users like me risk side effects, not to mention the fact PEP isn’t taken on just one occasion like with morning after pills. I myself am lucky enough to have not experienced any side-effects of PEP, but the potential side-effects include prolonged headaches, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting. If you experience any of these side effects you should not stop taking the medication as once stopped, PEP will not be effective. Contact your doctor to discuss any issues you may be encountering on the drug to get an informed decision on what to do next. Timing is also crucial when it comes to PEP. If the course of drugs has not started within 72 hours of potential infection, the drug will no longer be effective.

Why I took PEP

My reasoning for using this often misunderstood drug was down to one thing: paranoia. The partner I had engaged in potentially risky sexual activity with was someone I know to be practising safe sex, and although we weren’t in a relationship we were very open with one another about our fears of HIV risks in the gay community and HIV tests we had previously taken. Nonetheless, I couldn’t shake the feeling of ‘what if?’ after this particular sexual encounter.

After two days of endless overthinking, excessive Googling and sheer panic I decided to bite the bullet and visit my nearest sexual health clinic. On this particular evening the clinic stated upon my entrance that the session was for appointment-only patients – my heart sank as this was my final chance to obtain PEP before the 72 hour window had closed. However, after quietly asking if I could speak to a nurse in private I was humbled to learn how genuinely concerned and helpful the staff at the clinic were. I was ushered into a private room where I explained my situation and within five minutes the nurse had made space for me and I was on the waiting list.

After a short wait I was seen by the doctor who carefully took note of my situation, perfectly explained what PEP was and reassured me that coming to the clinic after potentially being exposed to HIV was the right thing to do. Hearing that my decision to take PEP was the right one was all I wanted to hear from a medical professional at that time. The doctor agreed with my sentiment that if you’re asking yourself ‘what if?’ then you should absolutely take no risks when it comes to HIV, because, ultimately, the only sexual health status you can be 100% sure of is your own. After taking a few blood samples and a quick HIV test, which is something I had done many times over the past few years, I was given my PEP medication.

The instructions were to take one tablet in the morning and two at night, taken exactly 12 hours apart at the same time every day. I was however only given a three day supply of the drug. The doctor informed me that this is normal practice and it’s up to the patient to pick up the remainder of their 28 day supply from their pharmacy. It is absolutely imperative that users of PEP plan ahead to make sure their supply of pills does not run out before retrieving the full medication.

The future

My experience with PEP, which I am currently still using until my 28 days are up, has been both fearful and insightful. In the short amount of time between considering starting a course of the drug and actually taking it I learned more about HIV and the treatments available than ever before. I also came to appreciate the services we have available in this country – if I wasn’t lucky enough to live in such a privileged part of the world who knows how I would be forced to handle a situation like this. Life after PEP will most likely enhance my sexual health paranoia, however I believe that being overly careful is always better than being slack when it comes to an issue such as this. Although I’m confident my treatment will be successful, I am currently still in my PEP bubble which involves a daily routine of taking pills with an alarm reminder at either end of my days. In the end, whether I actually needed the drug or not in the first place, it was most definitely worth it.

Thanks for reading, let us know what you think in the comments below, or you can find us on FacebookTwitter or Instagram!

bfb01    btw01    bin01

                  (Or subscribe to our newsletter)

Life on London’s first Aids ward

In 1993, Gideon Mendel spent a number of weeks photographing the Broderip and Charles Bell wards in London’s Middlesex Hospital.

The Broderip was the first AIDS ward in London and was opened by Diana, Princess of Wales in 1987.  This was the era before antiretroviral medications had become available, a very distinct and tragic time. All of the patients on the wards, many of whom were young, gay men, were having to face the terrifying prospect of an early and painful death.

During his time at the hospital Gideon followed the stories of four patients in particular – John, Steven, Ian and Andre. These two wards at The Middlesex Hospital were some of the few dedicated AIDS wards that existed in London, and even more unusual for their decision to open themselves to being photographed.

Considering the high levels of stigma and fear that existed at the time, the decision of these four patients to allow themselves, alongside their families, lovers and friends to be photographed was an act of considerable bravery.

During his time at the hospital, he photographed their treatment and many other aspects of ward life, including the intimate way in which the staff, patients and their families related to one another.

Treatment was not a passive process, but rather an active engagement on the part of the patients, who were often extremely knowledgeable about their condition. The staff too became far more attached to their patients than was commonplace in hospitals at the time.

All of the patients in these photographs died soon after the pictures were taken. They were the unlucky ones, who became sick just before treatment became available.

The Ward poignantly reminds us of a different time, how it felt to live with HIV when it was considered a veritable death sentence, and how the wards at the Middlesex Hospital became unique and special places full of love.

Mendel’s project aimed to move away from the representations in the popular media at the time, which he believes tended to show the horror of the illness.

“The work is gentle and compassionate and loving, and the intention was to try and move away of images of people living with HIV as being emaciated, dying skeletons,” he says.

“I was trying to show relationships and show the love.”

“The Ward” Photo Book is available to buy from World AIDS Day, 1st December 2017 – ISBN: 1907112561 

Thanks for reading, let us know what you think in the comments below, or you can find us on FacebookTwitter or Instagram!

bfb01    btw01    bin01

                  (Or subscribe to our newsletter)

From HIV to trafficking: shifting frames for sex work in India

Hijras in a train in Rajasthan in 2012. Giannis Papanikos/Demotix.

Hijras in a train in Rajasthan in 2012. Giannis Papanikos/Demotix.

The conflation of trafficking and prostitution in anti trafficking discourses not only frames all sex workers as victims in need of rescue, but elides the reasons many include sex work as part of their complex livelihood strategies.

NGOs focusing specifically on ‘sex work’ and ‘trafficking’ (where ‘trafficking’ is conflated with prostitution) in India have only been around since the mid and late 1990s. There has been a steep rise in their numbers in the last decade. Previously, if organizations addressed the needs of sex workers, they did so within the rubric of HIV/AIDS. Indian HIV/AIDS organizations were spurred into existence by the flow of international aid dollars that increasingly became available to organisations working in Asia, Africa, and Latin America during the first decade of the AIDS pandemic (1985-1995). Funds for HIV-related work in India came from the European Union, Sweden, Norway, and Canada into then relatively new entities like India’s National AIDS Control Organization (NACO). This money provided the infrastructural support for both governmental and nongovernmental efforts to surveil, control, and eventually treat HIV and AIDS. Local organisations also emerged as a result of this new funding to provide HIV-related services to sex workers, men who have sex with men, andhijras (people assigned male sex at birth who live as a ‘third sex’ in the feminine range of the gender spectrum).

By the late 1990s, thanks to feminist debates on pornography and prostitution, an antitrafficking framework—composed of laws, policies, and theories that used prostitution as an allegory for women’s oppression by men—was taking hold within some national governments and segments of the international policy-making community as a primary lens for understanding sexual commerce. This framework now largely dominates the discussion, having become the ‘common sense’ of sexual commerce and even, to a degree, migration among poor and working class people. This is despite the fact that the trafficking framework has been repeatedly criticised for conflating human trafficking with prostitution, and for failing to provide clear parameters for tracking the phenomena it aims to describe. It remains, for the moment, a significant but contested lens on sexual commerce for international policy, especially with respect to interventions crafted for countries in the Global South.

The rise in the explanatory power of the anti trafficking framework for understanding phenomena like migration and the exchange of sex and money in the Global South paralleled an increase in the significance of prostitution in the global image and imaginary of India, usually as the dark foil of India’s buoyant economic growth rates. By 2007, ‘prostitution in India’ had become a categorical focus for charitable organizations, an object of study for filmmakers, a worthy cause for politicians and celebrities, and a Wikipedia entry. This was not due to the discourse on HIV per se, nor was it due to an increase in the proliferation of HIV in India (the national rate of new infections decreased by half between 2000 and 2009). Rather, the increased significance of prostitution to the idea of India itself was linked with the increased global significance of the anti trafficking framework.

While this framework is far from being unequivocally dominant in managing and understanding prostitution, its increased significance in the halls of international policy formulation has helped position prostitution as particularly important to understandings of women in the Global South. This conflation of trafficking and prostitution is contextualised by a number of historical trends, including the ways in which discourses of venereal disease have figured female sex workers as infectious vectors since the nineteenth century. It is also contextualized by the altered conditions for labour migration brought about in the late 1980s and early 1990s due to the adoption of neoliberal economic policies in many parts of the world; the well-rehearsed histories of feminist pornography debates in the United States; and the confluence of interests between governments and some segments of women’s movements in seeking to eliminate illegal and undocumented cross-border migration. While migrancy has changed dramatically in the era of neoliberalism, such that economic migrants are vulnerable to wage theft, debt bondage, exploitation, and abuse in new and unprecedented ways, we may ask whether the frame of ‘trafficking’ accurately tracks and addresses these vulnerabilities, or whether it is more effective in protecting states’ interests in securing and monitoring borders?

At worst, the rise in the explanatory power of ‘trafficking’ for prostitution consists of an elision of political economy within discourses of sexuality, contributing to the reproduction of the idea that sexual freedom, autonomy, expression, and even sexual subjectivity are all luxury goods, available only to those whose access to food and shelter is secure. This form of depoliticisation within sexuality politics in the United States and elsewhere has attracted much scholarly and activist attention, as well as criticism from both the mainstream left and the LGBTQ left. In my view, a sustained scholarly engagement with sexual commerce in the Global South would not only offer a way to critique prostitution per se. It would also demonstrate the kind of discussion of sexuality, politics, and power that is possible when sexuality is not primarily or exclusively understood as a form of individuated, innate human expression.

The result of this depoliticisation in understandings of sexual commerce has been the subjection of women and girls selling sexual services to a discourse in which prostitution is a state of being from which they must simply be rescued. In this discursive trajectory, sexual commerce is never figured as a livelihood strategy that is part of a complex set of negotiations for daily survival that include, but cannot be reduced to, violence and precarity. Just as identitarianism marginalises questions of political economy with respect to LGBTQ politics, the conflation of selling sexual services with human trafficking deprioritises and, in some spaces, erases the question of survival with respect to sexual commerce. This individuated frame reinforces and reifies the idea of origins, on the moment in which an individual subject knew, came out, was forced, was called into being, within a fixed subjective matrix.

_Street Corner Secrets _takes up this critique by asking what an analysis of sexual commerce would be if it were to use a framework other than trafficking, one that focuses instead, for example, on the relationship between sexuality and livelihood? How would such an analysis account for violence, without conflating the exchange of sex and money with violence? The book does this by emphasizing the idiosyncratic and extremely local ways in which laws and criminality are interpreted and enforced as part of a larger focus on migration and daily economic survival. This emphasis is able to account for the relationship between sexual commerce and the profoundly uneven and inadequate access to water and land among poor migrants living in Mumbai. Here, the difference between living in a brothel and a slum is, among another things, the relatively higher access to municipal services like water and government-run schools among brothel-based sex workers, compared with those eking out a living in the slums at the edge of the city.

The emphasis in the book on livelihood, economic informality, housing and the liminal legal zones migrants must navigate in the city opens up a number of questions that are subsumed, or unasked, when abolitionism imbricated with trafficking serves as the primary interpretive frame for sexual commerce. What, for example, could a critical examination of sexual commerce reveal about the politics of day wage labour? What would it show about the exercise of state power on the urban street? What could it reveal about economic survival, in the Indian context, or in any other? Addressing these questions brings us closer to discursively repositioning violence, such that we may account for violence as it is meted out in myriad forms by police, housing authorities, and clients against people selling sexual services, while also explaining why sexual commerce endures as a livelihood strategy among people who are extracting survival from an shrinking field of economic options.

Thanks for reading, let us know what you think in the comments below, or you can find us on FacebookTwitter or Instagram!

bfb01    btw01    bin01

                  (Or subscribe to our newsletter)