Just a few years ago, prevention of the sexual transmission of HIV meant one thing: using a condom for intercourse. Today there are multiple means of HIV prevention, and they involve both people who are living with HIV and people who are HIV-negative. Treating people living with HIV has a prevention benefit: someone living with HIV who has an undetectable viral load is extremely unlikely to transmit HIV. And the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Truvada as Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), a pharmaceutical HIV prevention for HIV-negative people at risk.
To HIV activists and service providers from affected communities, CDC has often seemed eerily absent from this freshly challenging, rapidly changing prevention landscape. Communities have the right to benefit from the knowledge obtained through research on them. This is a fundamental principle of human subject research. Community members have been subjected to a huge amount of HIV-related research over the past thirty years. Now that this research has shown just how crucial TasP, PEP, and PrEP could be for lowering the number of new infections, this knowledge must be translated quickly into policies and programs that could help relieve our communities of the massive burden of disease into the foreseeable future. Toward this end, ACT UP NY and our community allies are asking CDC to change the way it conducts HIV prevention:
Sexually Frank HIV Prevention Messaging
Effective HIV prevention requires informational materials that deal frankly with sex and discuss the
realities of maintaining bodily health. When these materials ignore the human body, those who need to practice sexual health ignore it too. The 1987 Helms Amendment prohibits federal funding for materials that promote homosexual activity. To protect itself, CDC drafted content guidelines that prevent the agency from producing openly sexual materials and from funding the production of such materials by local health departments. In silencing itself and its partners, CDC has abandoned its mandate…
to keep the nation healthy. Current content guidelines deprive the nation of necessary health information and contribute to an atmosphere that discourages sex research. The resulting gaps in our knowledge hamper the ability to target prevention efforts. Promoting sexual health will require the persistence of healthcare agencies in the face of attempts to censor and suppress its efforts, sometimes sustained by traditional beliefs. CDC has an ethical responsibility to promote the health of its constituents and their rights as individuals, even when this proves inconvenient, controversial, unpopular or difficult.
- CDC must rewrite content guidelines to allow the production and promotion of sexually explicit materials in the interest of public health. It must collaborate with the communities most affected by HIV to design those materials.
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