The University’s chapter of United Against Infectious Diseases kicked off World AIDS Week early this year by hosting the World AIDS Week Speaker Series on Saturday. The event, which took place in the Michigan Union’s Parker Room, featured three speakers with perspectives on the institutional, social and medical aspects of HIV/AIDS.
Patrick Yankee, director of the HIV/AIDS program in the Detroit Department of Health and Wellness, spoke about the increase in awareness, organization and funding for the fight against HIV/AIDS.
Yankee first became active in the cause in 1985 when he was volunteering for Wellness Huron Valley, which was later renamed the HIV/AIDS Resource Center. He was president of the HIV/AIDS Resource Center from 19990 to 1999.
He noted that funding for HIV/AIDS organizations increased in the early 1990s. The expansion of the Ryan White CARE Act, which funds organizations in order to provide uninsured HIV/AIDS patients with the proper medication and care, benefited HARC because the expansion incorporated organizations in Ann Arbor.
He explained that the increase in HIV/AIDS cases, in conjunction with the formalization of the various HIV/AIDS organizations and the expansion of the Ryan White Act, caused the use of pharmaceutical drugs to increase. People also became more willing to make donations once they realized the importance of the issue and the fact that it could affect anyone.
Yankee pointed out that there are 17,000 known cases of HIV/AIDS in Michigan. Most people diagnosed are aged between 30 and 39, but there has been an increase in the cases for people aged 16 to 24, particularly in gay Black men in Detroit.
Public Health Prof. Gary Harper discussed HIV/AIDS cases among gay and bisexual men and specifically the social and cultural aspects of the issue.
He pointed out that while White MSM — men who have sex with men — is the group with the highest rate of the infection, the rate for Black MSM has been increasing rapidly.
Harper, who is also very active in HIV/AIDS prevention organizations in Kenya, claimed that there is a lack of prevention of HIV campaigns aimed at gay and bisexual men in the United States.
He advocates a socio-economic model approach to the issue. This model includes factors such as intrapersonal and interpersonal relations, organizations and institutions, community and cultural relations and, finally, public policy. These factors are co-related and interdependent, according to Harper.
James Riddell, director of the Infectious Disease Division Ambulatory Care Unit and Director of Clinical HIV/AIDS Research at the University Hospital, spoke about the biological process of HIV/ AIDS and the medicine that has been used to treat it.
The first transmission of HIV from primate to man occurred in 1921, although the first sporadic incidents appeared in the 1960s, when doctors could not explain the symptoms. Only later did they realize that patients were infected with HIV.
Riddell explained that while the virus is often successfully suppressed nowadays, the difficulty with curing HIV is that it’s not only stored in the immune system, but also has reservoirs in other parts of the body. Thus patients who have been relieved of HIV from their immune system run the risk of the virus being released from the reservoirs.
Riddell also recognized “poor medication adherence” — patients missing their prescribed doses — as the biggest contributor to HIV persistence.
“The best way to get patients to adhere to medication is to have a partner or spouse,” Riddell said.
Engineering graduate student Aarthi Arab is the co-founder and president of the University’s chapter of the United Against Infectious Diseases. She noted that the speakers were very interesting and differed from each other.
“We have to grow or collaborate with other organizations to get more people interested,” Arab added.
The World AIDS Week is from Dec. 1 to Dec. 7.