Wednesday, September 28, 2011

ARC Receives New CDC Award to Reduce HIV Transmission in Central Ohio

Activities will focus on young gay/bisexual men of color

DAYTON, OH-A new grant from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) aimed at reducing HIV transmission in Central Ohio has just been awarded to AIDS Resource Center Ohio (ARC Ohio).

The multi-year grant will support the activities of the new Greater Columbus Mpowerment Project. The initiative's activities will focus on empowering young gay and bisexual men of color to reduce their sexual risk taking and establish healthy peer relationships.

Nearly 600 young gay and bisexual men of color will also be tested for HIV through the project. Those individuals who test positive will be linked to supportive counseling to help them access treatment and adopt strategies to reduce transmission of the virus, thus enhancing both individual and community health.

Recent data show that young men who have sex with men (MSM) of color are at particularly high and increasing risk of HIV infection. According to CDC estimates released in August, between 2006 and 2009, the annual number of new HIV infections increased 48 percent among young black MSM. Among Latinos, men who have sex with men are by far the most severely impacted, accounting for nearly two-thirds of all new infections. Nearly half of these infections among Latino MSM occurred in the youngest age group (aged 13-29). Transgender people are also severely affected by HIV. It is estimated that 28 percent of transgender people are HIV-infected.

"This grant is extraordinary news and a much-needed resource for HIV prevention in the Columbus area," states ARC Ohio Chief Executive Officer Bill Hardy.

Columbus has the highest rate of HIV in Ohio, and the 25th highest in the nation. Already, nearly 3,200 HIV-positive individuals are known to be living in Columbus, and another 600 are estimated to be infected, but not yet diagnosed. Based on health department data, it is estimated that every 25 hours someone in Central Ohio is newly-infected with HIV.

According to Ohio Department of Health data, of total living cases of HIV/AIDS in Franklin County, 2,601 are men, and 65.6% of those men are known to have acquired HIV infection through male-male sex, sometimes referred to in public health circles as Men who have Sex with Men (MSM). An additional 3% of Franklin County males living with HIV/AIDS report risk from male-male sex and sharing of drug injection equipment.

ARC Ohio has been a leading advocate for a public health approach to HIV/AIDS, one that directs scarce resources toward those most impacted. According to Hardy, "Gay and bisexual men still bear an enormously disproportionate burden of this epidemic. Two-thirds of all new HIV cases in Ohio are among this population, but less than a third of state HIV prevention dollars are allocated to HIV prevention programs specifically designed to reduce HIV among gay and bisexual men."

ARC Ohio Chief Operating Officer Peggy Anderson agrees, citing a recent federal study concluding that Men who have Sex with Men are 44 times more likely to be living with HIV infection than heterosexual men. Anderson will oversee the new project, which includes the establishment of a new Mpowerment Center in Columbus. The Center will function as both a central site to serve the needs of program youth, and as a hub for participant outreach activities. "In the Columbus region as across the nation, HIV is spreading most rapidly today among gay and bisexual youth of color," states Anderson. "This new program provides the critical funding needed to truly respond to the needs of these youth in our community."

Earlier this year, ARC Ohio released Two Steps Forward, One Step Back, a policy brief addressing the problem of inadequate funding for HIV prevention efforts to reach gay and bisexual men in Ohio. In addition to changes in funding priorities, increased funding for HIV prevention efforts overall; expanded utilization of evidence-based interventions in HIV prevention for MSM; and assurances that agencies receiving public HIV prevention funds are sensitive to, and inclusive of, the needs and experiences of gay and bisexual men.

The brief, which was endorsed by major local and statewide HIV/AIDS and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender organizations, also called upon state and local governments to ensure that HIV prevention efforts for gay and bisexual men receive an equitable share of public resources-one that corresponds to the continuing impact of HIV on gay and bisexual men.

Since July 1, AIDS Resource Center Ohio, the Columbus AIDS Task Force and the Ohio AIDS Coalition have merged to become Ohio's largest HIV/AIDS service, prevention education, and advocacy organization. With offices in Columbus, Dayton, Lima, Mansfield, Cleveland, Toledo, Athens, Chillicothe, and Newark, ARC Ohio will provide linkage to care, financial assistance and supportive services to more than 2,500 HIV-positive Ohioans in 2011. Thousands more will be reached with evidence-based prevention, HIV testing, and advocacy activities.

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