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Dr. Jason Halperin, a physician at CresentCare, says the best indicator of progress in ending the HIV epidemic is a drop in the rate of new cases. 

The number of new HIV cases in Louisiana is on the decline, 'Change the South' bus tour is coming to New Orleans, and Satchmo SummerFest announces its 2019 lineup.


New HIV Cases in Louisiana on the decline

While Louisiana’s total number of HIV cases have risen in recent years, the Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) last week announced that fewer people in the state were newly diagnosed with HIV in 2018 than in at least a decade.

According to the LDH’s Infectious Disease Epidemiology Unit, there were 989 people newly diagnosed with HIV in 2018, down from 1,124 new cases in 2016 — a 12 percent decline in three years.

Dr. Jason Halperin, a physician at CrescentCare health clinic in New Orleans, told Gambit earlier this year that the best single indicator of progress in ending the HIV epidemic was the decline in the rate of new cases. As long as the number of new HIV diagnoses is decreasing, “then it is a positive thing to see more people living with HIV because they're not dying from AIDS, which was what used to happen,” Halperin said.

The 2018 total also breaks a benchmark in the number of new HIV cases diagnosed. Since 2005, the number of new diagnoses has not been fewer than 1,000 people per year.

Dr. Alexander Billioux, assistant secretary for the LDH’s Office of Public Health, said it might be more than 10 years since new cases were this low, due to potential underreporting in the state following Hurricanes Katrina and Rita in 2005.

“We know these storms had a big impact on the state’s health services at that time,” Billioux said. “Since there had not been fewer than 1,000 people with HIV diagnosed each year since 1988, it is quite possible that today’s number is the lowest in a generation.”

Billioux and Halperin both attribute the decline in new cases to increased access to screening for the virus throughout the state, as well as viral suppression of HIV through medication. Experts say a preventive drug known as PrEP also has the potential to help end the HIV epidemic — although studies show it largely is underused among the communities most at risk for contracting the virus.

The news of lower diagnoses of new HIV cases follows the announcement of an agreement between LDH and Asegua Therapeutics, owned by Gilead Sciences Inc., for an unlimited supply of a drug at a fixed price to treat hepatitis C. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately a quarter of people living with HIV in the United States also have hepatitis C. The drug covered by the deal cures up to 98% of hepatitis C patients. — KAYLEE POCHE

‘Change the South’ bus tour ends in New Orleans

Antonio Travis told a crowd of voting rights and prison reform activists last week that when he first saw voter registration advocates visit communities like his, he was skeptical. The crowd had gathered outside New Orleans City Hall for a voter registration drive.

“To be honest with y'all, when I see people who walk into my community and tell me I need to vote, they look like the teachers who told me I wasn't going to be nothing,” Travis said. “They look like the principals who told me I wasn't going to be nothing. They look like the police officers who labeled me before they even walked up to the car.”

But the crowd in front of Travis, who now is a youth leader for Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC), included mostly black people and many individuals who served time in prison. Travis was one of about 40 people present to kick off the final day of a four-day statewide bus tour aimed at registering black people and formerly incarcerated people to vote.

A table at the event was covered in flyers informing attendees of the passage of Act 636, a law that went into effect March 1 and allows people who have been out of prison for five years but are still on probation and/or parole to register to vote. The law gave an additional 40,000 Louisiana residents the right to vote.

Many organizers still were abuzz from the previous night’s stop in Monroe, where turnout was much higher than expected — between 50 and 100 people, they said. Organizers said that while they had not gotten a large number of people impacted by the new law to register to vote, they were encouraged by their ability to spread awareness of it.

“A lot of people didn't know the details or didn't know that [the law] passed at all,” said Cliff Albright, co-founder of Black Voters Matter. “So the number of people that just came, collected information, said, ‘Look, I'm going back. I'm going to tell five people, 10 people.’ — it was just the energy (that) was really incredible.”

LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, said the turnout in Monroe was symbolic of high incarceration rates in rural areas. “We have to recognize that rural America is not synonymous with white America,” she said. “Our community is in rural America, and oftentimes those folks are actually [overly] incarcerated.”

Albright said that Black Voters Matter has brought voter registration buses to states across the South. One of its largest campaigns involved efforts to mobilize voters during the Alabama Senate race of 2017, when Democrat Doug Jones narrowly beat Republican Roy Moore, who was accused of sexual misconduct by multiple women, several of whom were teenagers at the time. (Moore has announced he will run again for the seat in 2020.)

“We've been going around, basically in the old Confederacy, in this bus that we call the ‘blackest bus in America,’” Albright said. “We are going to change the state, we are going to change the South and we are going to change the nation.” — KAYLEE POCHE

Satchmo SummerFest announces lineup

Organizers of the annual Satchmo SummerFest have announced the lineup for the weekend-long festival, which takes place Aug. 2-4 at the Louisiana State Museum at The Mint.

Friday, Aug. 2 will include the Original Pinettes Brass Band, Corey Henry and the Treme Funktet, Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers, Michael Ward  and more.

Saturday, Aug. 3 will bring Shannon Powell, Big Easy Brawlers, Doreen's Jazz, Treme Brass Band and others.

Sunday, Aug. 4 will include Ellis Marsalis, Jeremy Davenport, Topsy Chapman and Solid Harmony, and a closing trumpet tribute to Louis Armstrong. That day will also feature the traditional jazz Mass celebrated at St. Augustine Catholic Church in Treme (1210 Gov. Nicholls St.) at 11 a.m., followed by a "Satchmo second line" to the festival grounds.

Daily admission tickets are $6, and a wide variety of food and beverages — mostly, if not all, under $10 — will be on site. There's also a VIP kickoff party at 7 p.m. Aug. 1 at the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel, with drinks, dinner and music by Ellis Marsalis Jr., Ashlin Parker, Jackie Harris, Corey Henry, Ricky Riccardi and others. Tickets are $65-$100.

For more information and a full lineup of acts, check out — KEVIN ALLMAN