TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: July 22

1. Caught between a war and life in a state of endless siege, Palestinians see no choice but to support Hamas.

By Noam Sheizaf in +972

2. Unfortunately, a deal with Russia is the only way to defuse the crisis in Ukraine.

By Iain Martin in the Telegraph

3. To beat the fundraising obsession that paralyzes Washington, disclose donation data less often.

By Lindsay Mark Lewis at the Atlantic

4. The research is clear: Our best strategy to fight the spread of HIV is decriminalizing sex work.

By Caelainn Hogan in the Washington Post

5. More than a sideline, corruption is a system for powerful actors to capture revenue and overshadow the operation of a state. And it is a major threat to international security.

By Sarah Chayes at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME HIV

Researchers Find New Way to Kick Out HIV From Infected Cells

Scanning electron micrograph of HIV-1
Scanning electron micrograph of HIV-1 Getty Images

The technique addresses the problem of hidden reservoirs of HIV in the body, and could herald a new way of battling the viral infection

Once HIV invades the body, it doesn’t want to leave. Every strategy that scientists have developed or are developing so far to fight the virus – from powerful anti-HIV drugs to promising vaccines that target it – suffers from the same weakness. None can ferret out every last virus in the body, and HIV has a tendency to hide out, remaining inert for years, until it flares up again to cause disease.

None, that is, until now. Kamel Khalili, director of the Comprehensive NeuroAIDS Center at Temple University School of Medicine, and his colleagues took advantage of a new gene editing technique to splice the virus out of the cells they infected – essentially returning them to their pre-infection state. The strategy relies on detecting and binding HIV-related genetic material, and therefore represents the first anti-HIV platform that could find even the dormant virus sequestered in immune cells.

MORE: Treatment as Prevention: How the New Way to Control HIV Came to Be

Even more encouraging, they also used the system to arm healthy cells from getting infected in the first place, by building genetic blockades that bounced off HIV’s genetic material. “It’s what we call a sterilizing cure,” says Khalili.

His work was done on human cells infected with HIV in cell culture, but, he believes the results are robust enough to move into animal trials and eventually into testing the idea in human patients.

The key to the strategy is the gene editing technique known as CRISPR, a way of precisely cutting DNA at pre-specified locations. CRISPR acts as a customizable pair of molecular scissors that can be programmed to find certain sequences of DNA and then, using an enzyme, make cuts at those locations. Because HIV is a retrovirus, its genetic material comes in the form of RNA; the virus co-opts a host cell’s genetic machinery to transform that RNA into DNA, which it then inserts into the cell’s genome. HIV’s genes, which it needs to survive, then get churned out by the cell.

MORE: David Ho: The Man Who Could Beat AIDS

Khalili designed a CRISPR that recognized the beginning and end of HIV’s DNA contribution, and then watched as the enzyme snipped out HIV from the cell’s genome. “I’ve been working with HIV almost since day 1 [of the epidemic] and we have developed a number of molecules that can suppress transcription or diminish replication of the virus. But I have never seen this level or eradication,” he says. “When you remove the viral genes from the chromosomes, basically you convert the cells to their pre-infection state.”

The advantage of the system lies in the fact that CRISPR can recognize viral genes wherever they are – in infected cells that are actively dividing, and in infected cells in which the virus is dormant. Current drug-based strategies can only target cells that are actively dividing and releasing more HIV, which is why they often lead to periods of undetectable virus but then cause levels of HIV to rise again. That’s the case with the Mississippi baby, who was born HIV positive and given powerful anti-HIV drugs hours after birth and appeared to be functionally cured of HIV when the virus couldn’t be detected for nearly four years, but then returned.

MORE: Rethinking HIV: After Five Years of Debate, a New Push for Prevention

Khalili admits that more work needs to be done to validate the strategy, and ensure that it’s safe. But it’s the start, he says, of a potential strategy for eradicating the virus from infected individuals. That may involve excising the virus as well as bombarding it with anti-HIV drugs. “We can get into cells, eradicate the viral genome, and that’s it,” he says.

TIME Infectious Disease

HIV Diagnosis Rate Fell by a Third in U.S. Over a Decade

HIV DIAGNOSES
This graphic shows the annual number of HIV diagnoses in the U.S., which has dropped by one-third in the past decade F.duckett—AP

A government study finds that HIV infection rates in the U.S. fell by one-third in the past decade, but young gay and bisexual men remain at high risk for the infection

(NEW YORK) — The rate of HIV infections diagnosed in the United States each year fell by one-third over the past decade, a government study finds. Experts celebrated it as hopeful news that the AIDS epidemic may be slowing in the U.S.

“It’s encouraging,” said Patrick Sullivan, an Emory University AIDS researcher who was not involved in the study.

The reasons for the drop aren’t clear. It might mean fewer new infections are occurring. Or that most infected people already have been diagnosed so more testing won’t necessarily find many more cases.

“It could be we are approaching something of a ‘ceiling effect,’” said one study leader, David Holtgrave of Johns Hopkins University.

The study was released online Saturday by the Journal of the American Medical Association. It is part of the journal’s special report on HIV research, issued ahead of the International AIDS Conference that starts Sunday in Melbourne, Australia.

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, which destroys the immune system. The World Health Organization estimates 35 million people globally have the virus. In the United States, 1.1 million people are thought to be infected, though many don’t know it.

The study is based on HIV diagnoses from all 50 states’ health departments, which get test results from doctors’ office, clinics, hospitals and laboratories. The data span a decade, making this a larger and longer look at these trends than any previous study, said another study author, Amy Lansky of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The findings: 16 out of every 100,000 people ages 13 and older were newly diagnosed with HIV in 2011, a steady decline from 24 out of 100,000 people in 2002.

Declines were seen in the rates for men, women, whites, blacks, Hispanics, heterosexuals, injection drug users and most age groups. The only group in which diagnoses increased was young gay and bisexual men, the study found.

The diagnosis rate is a direct measure of when people actually tested positive for the virus. The diagnoses may be identifying infections that happened recently or years before.

The study found diagnosis rates dropped even as the amount of testing rose. In 2006, the CDC recommended routine HIV testing for all Americans ages 13 to 64, saying an HIV test should be as common as a cholesterol check. The percentage of adults ever tested for HIV increased from 37 percent in 2000 to 45 percent in 2010, according to CDC data.

Lansky acknowledged that given the testing increases, the new findings may seem like a bit of a paradox. One might assume that “if more people get tested, you’re more likely to find more people who are infected,” she said.

But several factors could explain the decline.

One is Holgrave’s ‘ceiling effect’ theory. Another is a possible ebb in new infections.

The CDC has been estimating about 50,000 new infections occur each year and that number has been holding steady in the past decade. That estimate comes from reports from 25 city and state health departments, joined with statistical modeling.

Lansky said maybe new infections are waning. Or maybe not, she and other experts said.

How could new infections be holding steady when diagnoses are falling? Perhaps the infection count might be buoyed by the expanding epidemic in young gay and bisexual men, said Sullivan, the Emory researcher.

TIME Australia

After MH17 Ukraine Crash, Global AIDS Researchers Mourn Lost Colleagues

The cause of HIV/AIDS research will be set back because of experts lost in the Malaysia Airlines Ukraine disaster

+ READ ARTICLE

[UPDATE: 7/18/14, 11:52 AM EDT]

There was a pall over the 20th annual International AIDS Conference in Melbourne even before the crash of Flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine, which killed an estimated 100 delegates who were en route to the meeting. [Update: Later reports suggest that the number of delegates lost is much lower.]

In the past couple of years the vibrant showcase event—part serious science, part activist networking and carnivalhas been headily optimistic, as HIV treatments improved and the possibility of a cure no longer seemed so far off. “The mood is always an important part,” says Professor Mike Toole, an international communicable diseases veteran with Melbourne’s Burnet Institute who has been at the HIV/AIDS front line since the pandemic began some 30 years ago.

Toole remembers that the landmark Durban International AIDS Conference back in 2000 demonstrated to this eclectic crowd—a disparate crew of laboratory researchers, front-line health workers, activists and people living with the infection—their powerful potential. It was in Durban that the commitment to deliver then-prohibitively expensive antiretroviral drugs to the world’s poorest populations ignited, and was carried through over the next few years by organizations like The Global Fund and the U.S. President’s Emergency Fund for Aids Relief.

The past two International Aids Society (IAS) meetings, in Vienna and Washington DC, have been buoyed by signals that a breakthrough was close, and the expectation was that the momentum would continue into Melbourne. Then, barely a week ago, came a serious blow. For over a year many members of the HIV/AIDS community had been pinning their hopes for a breakthrough on the so-called Mississippi baby, an HIV-positive infant that had apparently been cured through aggressive drug treatment soon after birth. But on July 10, news came, that the child was showing symptoms that the virus had returned.

Although there are other programs that indicate that it might be possible to eliminate HIV infection from a human body, the apparent relapse of the Mississippi baby “depressed people incredibly,” says Toole.

Then came yesterday’s tragedy. For Toole and others HIV/AIDS experts the crash summoned up ghosts. “It reminds me of the Swissair flight, New York to Geneva, when Jonathan Mann died,” he says. Mann then the founding director of the World Health Organization’s global AIDS program was killed with several other researchers, including his wife Mary-Lou Clements-Mann, en route to AIDS meetings when the plane crashed in Canada, September 3, 1998. “I lost five friends on that flight.”

In Sydney, at a pre-conference gathering on July 18, about 200 delegates spent the day closely monitoring Twitter and exchanging snippets of news, desperate for updates on who would and would not be joining them in Melbourne. The word there was that a substantial number of the 100-plus delegates reported to be on the downed aircraft were part of the global network of activists and people living with AIDS.

With only a handful of names of the deceased confirmed by Friday, it’s difficult to measure the overall impact on HIV/AIDS research and advocacy. But the loss of internationally renowned Dutch researcher Joep Lange—a former president of the IAS—would be a massive blow. “It will have a big psychological effect,” says Toole. “He was one of the leaders in the field.”

Another known casualty was Glenn Thomas, a British media officer working for WHO in Geneva. Thomas was to be part of a media launch on July 20 revealing new tools to reduce harm to users of intravenous drugs. He was also recognized as a particularly effective communicator on the links between HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, says Toole. (The risk of developing TB is up to 20 times greater in people infected with HIV, and in 2012, of the 8.6 million new cases of TB diagnosed internationally, 1.1 million were among people with HIV.)“And the other hundred [on board]—we don’t know who they are, what it means.”

The annual AIS conferences are like no other medical gathering, says Professor Rob Moodie of the University of Melbourne, a former senior WHO official and longtime Australian public health specialist. “You have this incredible mixture of scientists and clinicians, public health people, civilian organizers, human rights activists, people who have the virus … who all have some sort of sense of ownership and collective leadership.”

The energy and collaborations of these gatherings have helped drive the huge advances achieved in understanding and responses to HIV/AIDS in a relatively short time. “We learned more about HIV in the first 10 years than we did in a century with other diseases,” says Moodie. The involvement of grassroots activist groups—as well as lab researchers—has been key to that success. MH17’s toll would not only be measured in the loss of medical expertise, but of advocacy, understanding and hard-won personal experience.

“There is a black cloud on this conference,” says Toole. “I don’t think there is anything that can retrieve that.”

Still, Toole was confident that delegates would be driven to achieve as much as they could in memory of their colleagues. He welcomed the move by the City of Melbourne on July 18 to cancel fireworks that had been scheduled to kick off the conference, but was disappointed that that’s night fixture in the Australian Football League competition—to which AIDS2014 delegates had been given tickets as part of the cultural program—did not pause for a minute of silence.

TIME Australia

Top AIDS Researchers Killed in Malaysia Airlines Crash

The huge loss may stall HIV/AIDS research

+ READ ARTICLE

About 100 people traveling to a global AIDS conference in Australia were on board the Malaysia Airlines flight that crashed and killed 298 people in eastern Ukraine, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.

The researchers, health workers and activists were on their way to the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne. Among the victims planning to attend was Dutch national Joep Lange, a top AIDS researcher and former International AIDS Society president. Briton Glenn Thomas, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization and a former BBC journalist, was also on flight MH17.

The International AIDS Society expressed sadness over the news that its colleagues were on the Malaysian jetliner.

“At this incredibly sad and sensitive time the IAS stands with our international family and sends condolences to the loved ones of those who have been lost to this tragedy,” the group said in a statement.

Friends and colleagues of those within the AIDS-research community, including UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibé, also expressed shock and grief over the tragic deaths on Twitter.

While the medical field mourns the lives of those killed, experts like Associate Professor Brian Owler, federal president of the Australian Medical Association, also fear that breakthroughs in HIV/AIDS research will now be stalled.

“The amount of knowledge that these people who died on the plane were carrying with them and the experiences they had developed will have a devastating impact on HIV research,” Owler told TIME.

“The amount of time it takes to get to a stage where you can come up with those ideas cannot be replaced in a short amount of time. So it does set back work for a cure and strategic prevention of HIV/AIDS very significantly,” he said.

With reporting by Ian Neubauer / Sydney

TIME HIV

This National Blood Drive Is Fighting the FDA Ban on Gay Donors

The National Gay Blood Drive is happening in 63 cities nationwide
The National Gay Blood Drive is happening in 63 cities nationwide Courtesy of Alexandra Sifferlin

A nationwide blood drive is protesting an FDA ban on gay men donating blood

Outside of the New York Blood Center near Grand Central Station, Sam Gavzy, 26, is wearing a name tag that reads: “Hello, my name is Sam. Ask me why I can’t donate.”

Gavzy, who is a research biologist at NYU Langone Medical Center, believes in the benefits of donating blood since his father had two kidney transplants. But gay and bisexual men cannot donate blood in the U.S. due to a ban imposed by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1983, when there was no effective and simple test to detect HIV in blood. Men who have sex with men (MSN) at any time since 1977 cannot donate. So Gavzy joined the National Gay Blood Drive, a nationwide donation and protest effort occurring in 61 cities July 11 to raise awareness about the ban they feel is outdated. “I wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for donation,” says Gavzy referring to his fathers’ reliance on donors. “The simplest way I could contribute and pay it forward is to donate blood, and I can’t.”

This is the second year of the National Gay Blood Drive, which drew about 1,000 participants last year. Gay men come to the blood drive locations with an ally or proxy — a straight friend or family member — who donates blood in their place. Gavzy has two friends donating for him. “There’s a such a need for blood, to have restrictions like this is a shame,” says Kian Bichoupan, 25, one of Gavzy’s proxies. Some of the gay men can fill out the paperwork only to be denied, so that the organizers can send the paperwork, along with postcards written by the men on why they want to donate blood, to the FDA to show the number of gay men willing to donate if they could.

Sam Gavsky cannot donate blood due to an FDA ban that prohibits gay and bisexual men from donating. Courtesy of Alexandra Sifferlin

The group also launched a White House Petition on July 1 calling on the FDA to change its policy. If the petition gets 100,000 signatures by July 30, the Obama administration will issue a response.

The National Gay Blood Drive began when gay rights activist Ryan James Yezak felt humiliated at work when he was one of the only people who could not donate blood to tornado victims three years ago. “It completely alienated me from the rest of my coworkers, and I felt like a different species,” says Yeznak, who has created a documentary on the topic. “We have enough [gay and bisexual men] to contribute to the offset of blood shortages.”

Last year, the American Medical Association (AMA) voted to end the ban, recognizing the new techniques available to detect HIV in donated blood. “The lifetime ban on blood donation for men who have sex with men is discriminatory and not based on sound science,” said Dr. William Kobler, AMA board member in a statement. “This new policy urges a federal policy change to ensure blood donation bans or deferrals are applied to donors according to their individual level of risk and are not based on sexual orientation alone.”

When asked why the ban is still in place, and whether the FDA is in the process of considering a change, an FDA spokesperson told TIME that the agency is willing to consider changing its policy, but only if available data showed that lifting the ban provided no additional risk to people receiving donated blood.

“Although scientific evidence has not yet demonstrated that blood donated by MSM or a subgroup of these potential donors does not have a substantially increased rate of HIV infection compared to currently accepted blood donors, the FDA remains willing to consider new approaches to donor screening and testing,” the FDA responded in an email.

One issue involves when potential donors would get tested for HIV; although testing has now become relatively simple (there are even at-home tests), HIV-positive people may still test negative if their blood is drawn in the first 11 days after infection.

The FDA is the keeper of the deferral policy, but other health groups have also voted to keep it, or at least not change it for now. In 2010, the Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Advisory Committee on Blood Safety and Availability (ACBSA) discussed the FDA policy and concluded that while the current policy isn’t ideal, it was necessary to protect the blood supply while they identified necessary areas for research. In 2013, they met again to hear updates on the research they requested; when there are enough results, the HHS plans to bring the issue into a public forum. Last year, members of senate–spearheaded by Senator Elizabeth Warren–wrote an open later to HHS holding them accountable to take action, based on the data.

“We have a lot of support from blood donation centers. They want our blood,” says Yeznak. “”We want to show the FDA that the gay community, can and wants to contribute.”

TIME Infectious Disease

WHO Says All Men Who Have Sex With Men Should Take Antiretroviral Drugs

A nurse takes blood for a free HIV test, during an HIV/AIDS awareness rally on World AIDS Day in San Salvador
A nurse takes blood for a free HIV test during an HIV/AIDS awareness rally on World AIDS Day in San Salvador on December 1, 2011. Luis Galdamez—Reuters

Warns of 'exploding epidemics' of HIV among gay men

The World Health Organization has suggested for the first time that all men who have sex with men should take antiretroviral medicine, warning that HIV infection rates among gay men are exploding around the world.

In guidelines published Friday, it said that it “strongly recommends men who have sex with men consider taking antiretroviral medicines as an additional method of preventing HIV infection.” Similar guidelines were issued by the U.S. in May.

Gottfried Hirnschall, the head of WHO’s HIV department, says that infection rates among homosexual men are increasing again 33 years after the epidemic hit, partially because the infection doesn’t hold as much fear to a younger generation with access to drugs that enable users to live with AIDS.

“We are seeing exploding epidemics,” Hirnschall told reporters in Geneva.

Although HIV infection rates did drop by a third between 2001 and 2012, Hirnschall characterized progress as “uneven.”

[AFP]

TIME Aids

Girl ‘Cured’ of HIV Has Relapsed

Dr. Hannah Gay, a pediatric HIV specialist at the University of Mississippi on March 3, 2013.
Dr. Hannah Gay, a pediatric HIV specialist at the University of Mississippi on March 3, 2013. Jay Ferchaud—University of Mississippi Medical Center/AP

"Certainly, this is a disappointing turn of events"

A 4-year-old girl believed to have been cured of HIV showed detectable levels of the virus, federal officials said Thursday in a blow to anti-HIV efforts.

The Mississippi girl had been off of antiretroviral therapy for more than two years, and doctors believed that she could serve as a model for eradicating HIV in babies born with the virus.

But on Thursday, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said that researchers had found detectable HIV levels in the girl this month.

“Certainly, this is a disappointing turn of events for this young child, the medical staff involved in the child’s care and the HIV/AIDS research community,” Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a statement.

The girl was born with HIV, and doctors administered anti-AIDS therapy nearly immediately after her birth and continued with the treatment for months. After the girl and her mother missed several treatment appointments, doctors found that the girl was still HIV-free — leading them to believe that the early treatment may have successfully eliminated the virus. Still, experts say they knew a relapse was a possibility.

Since HIV was detected in the girl this month, doctors have resumed treatment. But despite her relapse, researchers say her case still provides a valuable understanding of early HIV treatment.

“The case of the Mississippi child indicates that early antiretroviral treatment in this HIV-infected infant did not completely eliminate the reservoir of HIV-infected cells that was established upon infection but may have considerably limited its development and averted the need for antiretroviral medication over a considerable period,” Fauci said in a statement. “Now we must direct our attention to understanding why that is and determining whether the period of sustained remission in the absence of therapy can be prolonged even further.”

TIME

AIDS Scientist Pleads Not Guilty to Faking Study

DES MOINES, Iowa — A former Iowa State University scientist pleaded not guilty Tuesday to charges alleging that he falsified research for an AIDS vaccine to secure millions of dollars in federal funding.

Dong-Pyou Han, 57, entered his not guilty pleas to four counts of making false statements during his initial court appearance in Des Moines federal court. Each count carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Han was released on bond and his trial was scheduled for Sept. 2. Han and his attorney, Joe Herrold, declined to comment after the hearing.

Han, who was born in South Korea, was guided through the proceedings by an interpreter in California who attended the hearing by phone. The only time he addressed the court was to say “yes” when asked if he understood the charges.

The hearing was initially scheduled for last week, but Han was hospitalized after getting into a traffic accident in Ohio, where he has been living since resigning from Iowa State last fall. Magistrate Judge Celeste Bremer said Han has indicated he plans to move back to Iowa, where he’ll be under the jurisdiction of federal probation officers, and she thanked him for managing to make it to the rescheduled hearing.

“I’m sorry to hear about your car accident and I’m glad you’re out of the hospital,” she said.

According to prosecutors, Han wrote a letter to university officials before he resigned last fall in which he confessed that he had spiked samples of rabbit blood with human antibodies to make an experimental HIV vaccine appear to have great promise. Han told them he started the fraud in 2009 “because he wanted (results) to look better” and that he acted alone.

“I was foolish, coward, and not frank,” he allegedly wrote.

Han’s actions raised hopes of a breakthrough in the scientific community. But the alleged misconduct was uncovered last year after scientists at Harvard University discovered the spiked samples.

According to the indictment, Han’s misconduct caused colleagues to make false statements in a federal grant application and progress reports to NIH.

The NIH paid out $5 million under that grant as of last month. Iowa State has agreed to pay back NIH nearly $500,000 for the cost of Han’s salary.

Experts say it is extremely rare for criminal charges to be brought in cases of scientific fraud, but that Han’s alleged wrongdoing was extraordinary.

There have been only a handful of instances over the past 30 years in which criminal charges were brought in cases of alleged scientific fraud, Ivan Oransky, who co-founded of Retraction Watch, which tracks research misconduct, recently told The Associated Press.

Oransky said charges are rarely brought because the U.S. Office of Research Integrity, which investigates misconduct, doesn’t have prosecution authority, and most cases involve smaller amounts of money. However, he said Han’s case was “particularly brazen.”

 

TIME

HIV Did Not Stop Me From Having a Biological Child

Author Ben Banks with daughter Finley and wife Kasiah
Author Ben Banks with daughter Finley and wife Kasiah Rachel Taylor—Piedmont Photography/Palmyra, VA

Though I have been HIV-positive since childhood, it has always been my dream to have a family. Last year, my wife and I welcomed our biological daughter

On Monday, April 15, 2013, at 8:00 a.m., my life changed forever. My wife, Kasiah, and I welcomed our first child, a healthy girl named Finley Elizabeth Banks, into this world. She was perfect. But the journey to have a healthy, HIV-free biological child began many years before Finley’s birth.

In 1981, when I was two years old, I was diagnosed with Bilateral Wilms’ tumors, a cancer of the kidneys, which had also spread to both of my lungs. The prognosis was grim; treatment was aggressive. My tiny toddler body fought a battle that required 15 months of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, and surgeries that required multiple blood transfusions.

Unknowingly, I was transfused with blood that infected me with HIV. Ten years later, having lived through a cancer-free childhood, doctors screened my blood during a routine oncology check-up. They discovered that I was HIV-positive.

In 1991, the epidemic was still raging, and very little was known about how HIV/AIDS infected and affected children. Pediatric treatment options were limited — AZT (the drug that drives the plot of Dallas Buyers Club) had only been approved for young patients the previous year.

Support from family and friends gave me the hope and strength I needed to fight every day and continue to plan for my future: graduate from high school and college, get married, and start a family. School required hard work and determination on my part, but starting a family would require unconditional love and support from another person, someone who could look past my HIV-positive diagnosis and see all of me.

That person was my best friend, Kasiah. We married in 2003. She believed in our future together, which included trusting that research would be developed to allow us to have a healthy, HIV-free biological child.

As we began to explore options, Kasiah and I were frustrated at the lack of family-planning data or information out there for serodiscordant couples like us, in which one partner is HIV-positive and the other is negative.

After endless telephone calls and consultations, we opted for sperm-washing and artificial insemination. Sperm washing is a technique commonly used to screen for genetic disorders, but the process is especially important for mixed-status couples who choose to have biological children. Doctors separate sperm from infected fluid, producing a virus-free sample (as with anything in medicine, the process does not 100% guarantee no transmission, and it is illegal in some states, but studies have shown its vast success).

After the sperm was washed, two samples were tested for HIV and both results were negative. This step was critical because we wanted to reduce the chances of horizontal (to the woman) or vertical (to the child) transmission of HIV as much as possible. And as mentors to younger HIV-positive children, adolescents, and young adults, we wanted to give the message of prevention.

Despite the now-wide research and documentation of prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV (PMTCT), there is still little dialogue around a father’s role in PMTCT. By not considering an HIV-positive male in terms of reproduction, a large portion of the HIV population is being ignored. We share our story and our daughter’s story to let other HIV-positive men know that the possibility of having a healthy, HIV-free family is very much a reality.

In the year we have loved Finley, we know what it means to be truly unselfish. Our hearts melt when we hear the words, “Ma-ma!” or “Da-da!” And we would not trade the sleepless nights, early wake-up calls, or dirty diapers for anything in the world.

Ben Banks is an HIV-positive Ambassador for the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation, which celebrate its 25th anniversary this week. He lives in Virginia with his family.

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