2013 International AIDS Society Conference in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia & Journal Publication

7 Sep

This summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to travel to South East Asia to publish an article I wrote in the Philippine Journal of Nursing (photo below) and present findings from my undergraduate research at the 7th annual International AIDS Society (IAS) Conference on HIV Pathogenesis, Prevention, and Diagnosis Treatment in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. IAS 2013 is the largest HIV-themed conference in the world, bringing together researchers, HIV-related organizations and NGOs, and activists from all over the world.  Most notably this year at the conference, the World Health Organization launched its new Guidelines for HIV treatment , which called for earlier HIV treatment based on high viral load, regardless of CD4 count.

Publication in Philippine Journal of Nursing

Publication in Philippine Journal of Nursing, Rachel Safeek

As an HIV activist who has worked with HIV prevention and human rights advocacy among female sex workers in the past, I wanted to comment specifically on the topic of HIV transmission and sex work at the conference before delving into my own research. The topic is one of paramount concern, especially given that  HIV among commercial sex workers  is a topic currently being investigated in the United States.

Earlier in the week of conference (late June/Early July) the US Supreme Court ruled against the anti-prostitution loyalty oath, reversing the decision to forbid the use of USAID funding for marginalized groups, including commercial sex workers. Given the importance of this decision, I expected more attention would be paid to the topic of sex work at the conference. I was, however, a bit disappointed with the lack of emphasis on the topic.

Although mostly overlooked, sex work was not entirely ignored. A full abstract discussion section was dedicated to the topic, albeit on the final day of the conference in the afternoon. Additionally, one of the key speakers, Aziza Ahmed, a Northeastern University Associate Professor of Law, also dedicated much of her talk, “HIV, Law, and Stigma”, to addressing HIV transmission among sex workers and other marginalized populations.

The IAS did acknowledge the importance of the topic at the close of the conference, reprimanding the decision of the Greek government to criminalize sex work and demand compulsory HIV testing for sex workers. I was very pleased to see that after the conference, the IAS had issued a formal statement condemning the Greek government’s decision:

@RachSafeek@iasociety statement on Greek gov decision to force #HIV tests for sex workers and criminalize #sexwork.#humanrights http://www.iasociety.org/Web/WebContent/File/IAS_Greece_MOH_Statement_5_July_2013.pdf …

For the upcoming AIDS 2015 conference in Melbourne, Australia, I look forward to hearing more about the efforts being undertaken to hinder the transmission of HIV among sex workers.

Description of my research:

My research investigates how risky sexual behavior patterns, including condom use, may differ by age of college students and also by gender, race, and sexual orientation. Using data collected from Duke University’s Know Your Status, an HIV prevention organization providing free, rapid HIV testing to college students in Durham, North Carolina, I compared demographic information of students to reported risky sexual behaviors. Specifically, I looked condom use, number of sexual partners in the past 12 months, and frequency of condom use, comparing these data across race, gender, sexual orientation, and type of college, Duke (private four-year university) and Durham Technical Community College (public two-year college), as these two college environments host different age and race demographics.

The data for this project was collected as part of research-based independent study in global health at Duke University and other testing sites in Durham County, NC, under the supervision of Duke faculty, Dr. Mehri McKellar.

Please see my abstract below or my poster presentation

“Sexual behaviors and condom use among younger versus older college students in North Carolina, U.S”
Authors: Rachel Safeek, Mehri McKellar, MD
Duke Univeristy
Background: Young adults have high rates of STD’s, including HIV. We evaluated sexual behaviors and condom use at a private university and a community college in Durham, NC, to see whether younger adults (ages 16-24) had riskier behaviors and lower rates of condom use than their older student peers (ages 25+).
Methods: Data was collected anonymously between 2006-12 from college students undergoing free rapid HIV testing at Duke University (DU) and Durham Technical Community College (DTCC). Students completed questionnaires regarding sexual behaviors, including type of sex, number of partners in the last year, and condom use, including use at last sexual encounter. Students rated frequency of condom use on a 5-point scale from never (0) to always (5).
Results: There were 2146 students overall (63% from DU) who participated, of which 56% were female; 25% black, 30% white, 9% Asian, 7% Hispanic, and 24% were other or did not report.  Students ranged from 16-54 years old with 69% age 16-24; the mean age was 21.0 at DU versus 26.0 at DTCC. The majority at both schools were female (706/1373 at DU; 509/810 at DTCC); 51% (588/1156) at DU were white, while 86% (494/575) at DTCC were black or black/Hispanic. Fifteen percent at each site identified as gay, bisexual, or other. The average number of sexual partners in the last year was 2.7 for younger students versus 2.5 for older students. Sixty-eight percent (1106/1631) of younger students reported being sexually active versus 79% (406/515) of older students. Of those sexually active, 52% (574/1106) of younger students used condoms at their last sexual encounter versus 39% (159/406) of older students.  Of those in engaging in vaginal intercourse 38.2% (360/968) of younger students versus 23.3% (80/344) of older students reported always using condoms. 40.2% (111/276) of younger students engaging in anal intercourse versus 31.9% (45/141) of older students reported always using condoms. The top reasons for not using condoms were: monogamous sexual relationships, use of alternative contraception, and lack of condom.
Conclusions: The data suggests that more prevention initiatives should be geared toward both younger and older college-students. There should be a greater effort made by universities to promote the distribution of condoms in areas which are accessible to all students.

Photos from my time in South East Asia

2013 IAS poster Presentation

2013 IAS poster Presentation Rachel Safeek

Beijing 2013--Great Wall Trip

Beijing 2013–Great Wall Trip

Petronas Towers Visit, Batu Caves trip, Chinatown, and Mederka Square

Petronas Towers Visit, Batu Caves trip, Chinatown, and Merdeka Square

International AIDS Society Conference nametag

International AIDS Society Conference nametag


Perhaps the most notable tourist attraction in Kuala Lumpur. The Petronas Towers

-Rachel Safeek


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