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Men control fate of AIDS epidemic, speakers say

Without men, the AIDS epidemic wouldn’t exist, according to speakers at the World AIDS Day conference yesterday at Boston University Medical Center’s Keefer Auditorium.

“Men account for probably two-thirds of the transmissions of HIV around the world,” said Nils Daulaire, president and CEO of the Global Health Council. “Clearly, men have to do something differently in order to make a difference.”

The theme of today’s World AIDS Day centers around how men can make a difference in the epidemic, Daulaire told a crowd of about 50 students and faculty from BU, Harvard University and Tufts University. The conference, titled “Turn Awareness Into Action: Advocate for a Healthier World,” aimed to increase awareness of the global AIDS epidemic and educate people of how they can take action to help prevent and treat the disease.

In their bimonthly publication, “AIDSLink,” Global Health said men could make the difference in a number of ways, including condom use, regular testing and faithfulness to one sexual partner.

Men make up about 80 percent of intravenous drug users worldwide, and tend to give blood more often than woman, according to Daulaire. Fifty-eight million people have died in the last 20 years since AIDS became a “recognized issue.” Daulaire also said in the next 25 years, the number of AIDS-related deaths is projected to exceed the cumulative total of every war of the 20th century.

Though money for AIDS research is increasing, Daulaire said the research funds are not nearly enough.

“The glass isn’t half-full yet,” he said. “It’s maybe not even a third, maybe a quarter full.”

In Massachusetts, 12,122 people are currently living with AIDS or HIV, according to Andrew Fullem, director of HIV/AIDS surveillance for the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Massachusetts differs from most states in the fact that 35-40 percent of those afflicted contracted the disease through drug use, but with sexual transmission still a factor, the state is victim to virtually two epidemics.

“Men who have sex with men is still the prominent mode of exposure, particularly in Boston,” Fullem said.

In the western part of the state, defined by Fullem as the area from Worcester to the New York border, 45 percent of those afflicted with HIV are women.

“From people who work in international health, which is my background, that sounds like an international developing country,” Fullem said. In the rest of the state, 25-28 percent of victims are women.

Sixty percent of HIV patients diagnosed this year hail from “colored communities,” according to Fullem, although only about 10 percent of the state’s population is black.

Of the inflicted U.S.-born black males living in Massachusetts, 40 percent are victims by injected drug use. The same cause is true for 60 percent of Hispanics, while the leading cause among white males is intercourse with men, accounting for more than 60 percent. The chance of getting infected through heterosexual sex is small for men, Fullem said.

“Given the biology of HIV, the chances of getting HIV as a heterosexual in this country and in this state are pretty small,” according to Fullem. “It just doesn’t happen. As one advocate said to me, and I’m sorry if I offend anyone, ‘If you ain’t getting poked in some way, you ain’t getting HIV.’”

Among U.S.-born women in Massachusetts, needle use is the leading cause of infection. It accounts for about 60 percent of afflictions in whites, and nearly 50 percent in both Hispanics and blacks.

Internationally, AIDS reaches around the world, but most heavily tortures Africa. Over 70 percent of AIDS cases around the world originate from sub-Saharan Africa, although the region is home to just 10 percent of the world’s population.

According to Iyeme Efem, the coordinator for Community Health Initiatives in Texas and a native of Nigeria, 25.3 million Africans are afflicted, and of the 13.2 million children left orphaned by AIDS related deaths, 12.1 are African.

“We forget the children are also suffering,” Efem said.

Efem noted that the rise of the AIDS epidemic hasn’t come as a surprise, with 1991 predictions nailing figures for the year 2000. He urged people to get involved, pressuring legislators to take action worldwide. If not, Daulaire said, by 2100 the world could be facing “global cataclysm” because of the diversity between cultures.

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