Wednesday, August 20, 2008

SF Chron, Wizard of Poz: Pay No Attention to
SF HIV Stats Behind The Curtain

The agenda for the August 14 meeting of the CDC's HIV Prevention Planning Council (HPPC), for San Francisco omitted any report or presentation on the city's HIV infection rate that continues to decline.

Recent annual, quarterly and monthly HIV/AIDS epi reports all document falling infections and diagnoses, and were the subject of a front-page article in the Bay Area Reporter.

The great news in the BAR last month:

The number of people newly diagnosed with HIV in San Francisco declined again last year, continuing a trend first noticed in 2003. AIDS cases also showed a decline in 2007 while AIDS deaths appear to be holding steady.

The Co-Chairs Report for the HPPC meeting contains details on the new national HIV stats from the CDC, and Dr. Grant Colfax, one of the co-chairs who also serves as the head of DPH HIV prevention services, made a PowerPoint presentation on the CDC New Incidence numbers, which took up about 15 minutes of time.

But local HIV stats were not on the HPPC agenda, even though the city's head of prevention co-chairs the meetings and sets the agenda. Also at the meeting from DPH was Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, head of the STD control unit and the City Clinic for STD testing, whose recent monthly reports show HIV positive test results at the clinic continue to drop. Klausner only spoke about a sex worker related ballot initiative before the voters in November.

Instead of addressing falling HIV figures in San Francisco, both Drs. Colfax and Klausner avoided the topic. Just like the Wizard of Oz, these guys give every indication they don't want to bring attention to the HIV stats behind the metaphorical curtain.

I'm not suggesting that Drs. Colfax and Klausner should not have spoken on CDC's new stats or the ballot proposition, but that in addition to those matters, they also talked about our own local HIV numbers, that happen to be on the wane.

Given that the HPPC is supposed to be devoted to HIV prevention, which is clearly working according to the epi reports, I would think both DPH leaders and HPPC members from prevention organizations would have insisted upon a discussion over the sustained decline of HIV stats in San Francisco. But like Dorothy, I was greatly disappointed with these wizards.

In keeping with avoiding discussing local HIV rates, today's SF Chronicle prints an editorial with the provocative headline "An End to AIDS?"

Just like DPH experts running the HPPC, the Chronicle does not look at local HIV stats, but it does mention international stats have fallen in the last five years:

Will there be a breakthrough ... prevention plan that will cut down on the 2 million infected last year with HIV, which causes AIDS? ...

The yearly infection rate has curved down from a peak of 2.2 million in 2005 [on a global scale.]

I give credit to the paper for citing this downward curve, but questions must be raised why our local paper of record fails to cite the same downward trend for San Francisco's rate.

The editorial also fails to mention gays and MSM, men who have sex with men, affected by and infected with HIV/AIDS. What are we to make of the fact that when discussing the controversial aspects of this disease, the editorial glaringly omits gays and MSM?

On a broader scale, will it ever be possible for national leaders to focus on a topic that touches so many hot-button topics: prostitution, drug use, women's rights and civil liberty protections for HIV-infected people?

Any other paper would have included homosexual sexual activity on that laundry list, but the Chronicle appears to have gone out of its way to exclude any reference to gays in the editorial. Check out this sentence:

Big-city newspapers ran lists of obituaries of single young men.

I believe it would have been more accurate to say the obits were about single young men, many of whom were gay.

It's frustrating to see that after close to three decades of HIV/AIDS, the DPH and SF Chronicle go to some lengths avoid calling attention to a positive development -- sustained HIV declines. I'm calling on DPH and the Chronicle to get over their embarrassment, or whatever is the cause of their reluctance to discuss the city's HIV drop, if

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