Adjunct Assistant Professor of Social Welfare Ayako Miyashita Ochoa wrote an article in the Regulatory Review about the inconsistencies between current blood donation deferral policies and modern scientific knowledge. At the height of the HIV epidemic, the FDA implemented a blood donation deferral for all men who have had sex with men in the last year. Miyashita Ochoa explained that, “at the time, exercising extreme caution was the wisest course of action” since scientists didn’t know how the virus was transmitted. However, the policy continued for decades, even as scientists learned more about HIV transmission and improved blood screening techniques. In April 2020, the FDA decreased the deferral period from 12 months to three months. While this was a step in the right direction, “it does not reflect the latest science,” Miyashita Ochoa said. She called on the United States to address HIV and gay-related stigma. “The FDA’s policies must harness truths based on science rather than fear.”
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Social Welfare Ayako Miyashita Ochoa spoke to North Carolina Health News about policies that continue to bar some gay men from donating blood. Miyashita Ochoa explained that at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, there was no test for HIV or AIDS, and scientists weren’t sure how it was transmitted. “The policy itself was a reflection of that,” she said. “It also obviously targeted specifically the populations that were hardest hit by HIV and AIDS.” Over time, the policies endured despite advances in science. Miyashita Ochoa pointed out that a lot has changed since the 1980s, including what we know about HIV transmission and the efficacy of prevention measures. To combat a shortage in the blood supply caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA relaxed restrictions in 2020 to include men who have not had sex with men for three months. Advocates, however, argue for an end to all bans of gay and bisexual men.
Adjunct Assistant Professor of Social Welfare Ayako Miyashita Ochoa was featured in a Men’s Health article discussing the impact of the longstanding ban on blood donations from gay men. The country’s blood supply is running dangerously low, partly due to the cancellation of many blood drives during the pandemic. Gay and bisexual men, often referred to as men who have sex with men (MSM), are not allowed to give blood if they have had sex with another man in the past three months. A 2014 report by the Williams Institute at UCLA found that allowing MSM equal access to donating blood could increase the total annual blood supply by 2% to 4%, which would help save the lives of more than a million people. Miyashita Ochoa expressed frustration that the ban still has not been lifted. “It is my opinion that we continue to have a real problem with laws and regulations based on fear rather than science,” she said.
Governments have cited protection of public health as a rationale for outlawing sex work, yet evidence shows that decriminalizing the trade increases health and safety and reduces the risk of disease, according to a new policy brief from researchers at UCLA. Released on International Sex Worker Rights Day, the brief reviews global data showing that the public health justification for criminalization and regulation of sex work is not supported by science. “There is scant evidence that criminalizing the sex trade has any positive effects on public health and the health of sex workers,” the brief states. Instead, it cites empirical studies linking criminalization to a rise in sexually transmitted infection and HIV transmission, as well as an increased risk of violence against sex workers. The authors draw a distinction between sex work, which is consensual, and sex trafficking, which is based on force, fraud or coercion or involves the participation of minors. The policy brief calls for further study on how laws and policies related to the sex trade can improve public health. While decriminalization may not fully eliminate the stigma and victimization of sex workers, the authors argue that “by removing criminal liability from the picture, approaches that seek to integrate sex workers into society can advance both human rights and labor rights of communities made vulnerable by multiple systems of oppression.” The policy brief was issued by researchers from UCLA’s Center for HIV Identification, Prevention and Treatment Services, Southern California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Center and Global Lab for Research in Action in partnership with the Sex Workers Outreach Project — Los Angeles.
The sixth Luskin Summit webinar, “Sexual Health: Hooking Up With Home-Based Testing and Telemedicine,” featured a panel of experts in health care, medicine, research and policy. Moderator Ayako Miyashita Ochoa, adjunct assistant professor of social welfare, explained that while the COVID-19 pandemic has presented new challenges for health care delivery, it has also served as an opportunity to integrate remote practices into sexual health care services. Associate Professor of Social Welfare Ian Holloway highlighted the resilience of sexual health care providers in their ability to pivot to remote care during the pandemic. “Telehealth is here to stay,” he said. Leah Millheiser, senior vice president of medical affairs for the telemedicine company Hims & Hers, noted that many patients who avoided physician offices out of fear of judgment or embarrassment are now taking advantage of telehealth services. Sonali Kulkarni, medical director of the Division of HIV/STD Programs for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, said that testing is an essential part of the strategy to address rising rates of sexually transmitted diseases. According to Holloway, physical distancing measures in place around the world have had a significant impact on the mental health of gay and bisexual men. Alex Garner of the Gay Sexuality and Social Policy Initiative at UCLA Luskin has been working on ways to promote and provide public health information on gay social networking apps while still respecting them as unique, cultivated spaces for men to connect with one another and to mitigate experiences of loneliness and isolation during the pandemic. — Zoe Day
A Body Pro article about the human rights and public health implications of laws targeting HIV-positive and LGBTQ populations cited Ayako Miyashita Ochoa, adjunct assistant professor of social welfare. In California, people living with HIV can be prosecuted for specific offenses, Miyashita Ochoa explained. These laws are most likely to be enforced in marginalized communities, she said, noting that sex workers account for 95% of HIV-related prosecutions in the state. In addition, Miyashita Ochoa, who is also associate director of the UCLA California HIV/AIDS Policy Research Center, interviewed filmmaker and activist Marco Castro-Bojorquez about the role of HIV criminalization data in shifting the policy landscape. Human rights advocates are working to modify or repeal laws that single out people living with HIV while continuing to criminalize the behavior of people who intend to harm or infect others.
Team from UCLA Luskin Social Welfare travels to immigrant detention center in Texas to counsel mothers and children seeking asylum in the U.S.
A contingent of 20 faculty and doctoral students from the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs are representing the School at the 2019 Society for Social Work and Research (SSWR) Conference Jan. 16-20 in San Francisco. Research is presented during symposia, workshops, roundtable discussions, and paper and poster presentations at the annual conference, which in 2019 is dedicated to ending gender-based, family and community violence. “We’re excited to see so many of our faculty and Ph.D. students presenting,” said Laura Abrams, professor and chair of UCLA Luskin Social Welfare. The presentations cover a broad spectrum of topics within social work and research, including mental illness, gerontology, child welfare, adolescence and parenting, racial and ethnic minorities, and civic engagement. Featured UCLA Luskin Social Welfare faculty are Abrams, David Cohen, Ian Holloway, Aurora Jackson, Leyla Karimli, Ayako Miyashita Ochoa, Amy Ritterbusch, Latoya Small, Carlos Santos and Laura Wray-Lake. Presenting doctoral students from UCLA Luskin are Skye Allmang, Donte Boyd, Ryan Dougherty, Shannon Dunlap, Jianchao Lai, Gi Lee, Carol A. Leung, Jason Anthony Plummer, Alex Recault and Rachel Wells. Holloway, associate professor of social welfare, remarked, “We are very proud of our doctoral students presenting at SSWR this year. They are advancing social welfare scholarship and representing UCLA well at our premier social work research conference.”