Category Archives: AIDS

Canadian HIV vaccine ready for human testing

A vaccine for HIV/AIDS developed in Canada is at the human testing stage after passing safety tests in animals. Researchers are now waiting for the United States to approve the human trials.
CBC reports:

“It is a very important milestone for us,” said Yong Kang, a professor of microbiology at the University of Western Ontario in London who has been working on the vaccine for 20 years.

According to Yong Kang this vaccine has the potential of saving millions of lives. AIDS has killed more than 25 million people and more than 40 million people are living with the virus since it was first discovered in 1981.

Canadians for Health Research reports:

“We created a genetically modified HIV and recombinant human adenoviruses to develop a vaccine which can prevent HIV infection and clear HIV-infected cells. It can produce antibodies against HIV and educate one type of white blood cells to find infected cells and kill them,” explains Kang. “We hope the vaccine will not only prevent HIV infection, but that it can be used as an immuno-therapeutic agent.”

It is expected that the FDA will allow for the testing to begin shortly. The United States trials will include toxicology tests and two phases of clinical trials.

The vaccine is being manufactured in a Maryland lab while the FDA approval is being waited on.

Within a decade the vaccine could be available to the public if the human trials are successful. Kang believes that the vaccine could be on the market in as little as three years for therapeutic use and then as a preventive vaccine within six years.

There have been several vaccines that have been developed and undergone animal testing. Few of those vaccines make it to the human test trials and of those there have yet to be a successful human vaccine produced.

A potential vaccine by Merck and Co. in 2007 had to be shut down after those in the trial contracted HIV at a higher rate than those who received the placebo.

The toxicology tests are planned for 40 to 50 HIV-positive volunteers in the United States. The test is designed to see if the vaccine is toxic in humans.

Kang has been the Dean of Science at The University of Western Ontario since 1992.


Toronto police issue public warning-HIV positive man arrested

A Toronto man, 28, has been arrested and charged with attempted murder and aggravated assault for allegedly failing to notify his HIV positive status to his partner.
Sahand Mahmoodi was arrested by Toronto police on Thursday. He is scheduled to appear in court next week after his first appearance on Thursday.

The police will be using the time prior to Mahmoodi’s court appearance to gather more evidence. They are asking people that may have had sex with the man to come forward. They have issued a public safety alert out of worry that there are other victims.

The police have the difficult task with complying with privacy laws while still warning people of a risk.

CBC reports:

“He did frequent the Church and Wellesley area,” said Const. Brad Stapleton with the Toronto police sex crimes unit. “We know he had sexual activities with other individuals and we have reason to believe he may not have disclosed his HIV status at that time.”

According to the Toronto police Mahmoodi has known of his HIV status since 2000.

Anyone who may have had sexual contact with him is asked to call police at (416) 808-7474.


No Angels singer arrested for having unprotected sex

A member of the German pop group No Angels was arrested for allegedly having unprotected sex even though she knew she was HIV positive.
The singer, Nadja Benaissa is accused of having unprotected sex with three men from 2004 to 2006. One of the men has since tested positive for HIV.

Benaissa was arrested in Frankfurt on Saturday. She was there to give a solo performance.

No Angels is a German band that gained popularity after winning a TV talent competition in 2000. No Angels has sold over 5 million records. The band split up in December 2003 but reformed in 2007. They finished last at the 2008 Eurovision Song Contest where they represented Germany with their song Disappear.

Benaissa has been charged with dangerous bodily harm. She is being detained because the judge believes that she would repeat the alleged charge if she would be released. She could face up to 10 years in prison if she is convicted.

Khalid Schroeder, manager of No Angels, refused to comment.


The drug companies, stigmas and realities of HIV in India

In March 2005 India passed a bill to recognize and protect global patents in order to join the World Trade Organization.

“It is a sad irony that India is one of the biggest producers of the drugs that have transformed the lives of people with AIDS in wealthy countries. But for millions of Indians, access to these medicines is a distant dream” Joanne Csete, Director of the HIV/AIDS programme at Human Rights Watch.

The bill was an effort so that India could be able to provide generic drugs to the world. India’s generic drug trade is able to keep prices at a low level and under what is being charged by multinational pharmaceutical companies.

The media covered this bill with a business angle and failed for the most part to delve into the potentially devastating impact of the new rule on vulnerable populations.

Copyright Srinivas Kuruganti, posted with permission

Journalist Sandeep Junnarkar and photographer Srinivas Kuruganti set out to document the lives of families that struggle to buy ARV (anti-retroviral) drugs in order to keep a family member healthy. They used audio recorders, photographs and video to show the world the challenges of AIDS patients deal with in India. These people are stigmatized and often unable to make enough money to buy the lifesaving drugs that their own country mass produces. The Lives in Focus Project Inc. is a non-profit media company that represents the voices of the forgotten. The company is based out of New York.

As India entered the World Trade Organization their own people with HIV were to become the victims. Because of product patents the drug companies in India those living with the disease will be the most affected.

Copyright Srinivas Kuruganti, posted with permission
This project looks at the effect of industrial pollution on the health of local communities in the Patancheru district of Andhra Pradesh and Ankleshwar, Gujarat where over 3000 chemical, pharmaceutical and dye factories release an alarming level of toxic waste into air, ground water and agricultural land.

Alternate Law Forum reports that the Patent (3rd Amendment) Bill will affect those who need ARV the most.

The fact is that while people who suffer from HIV AIDS are those who will be most directly affected by the amendment, the larger issue is the coming into place of a regime of product patents which signals a radical shift in the ability of pharmaceutical companies to reverse engineer drugs and make them available at lower prices. This is a much larger issue that cuts across all diseases and will become as much of a problem for other ailments as it is for HIV AIDS.

As India becomes known at the ‘pharmacy of the developing world’ it has worked laws to make it to their advantage.

Biz Community.com reports:

“In many ways, India’s patent law is very progressive,” commented Jonathan Berger, a senior researcher at the AIDS Law Project, an organisation that fights for the rights of people living with HIV/AIDS in South Africa. “It is the only country that has taken advantage of flexibilities in TRIPS; the real question is, why haven’t other countries done the same?”

In India there are presently about 6 million people dealing with HIV. Most of those living with HIV reside in rural areas.

With the huge pharmaceutical industry in India it would make sense that the citizens would have the best and latest medicines. That is not always the case however.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimated in 2003 that nearly seven percent of AIDS patients in India acquired the virus through a blood transfusion. Those patients are often turned away from health care.

WHO has found that unpaid donors are more likely than paid donors to provide safe and sustainable blood supply because they are less likely to lie about their health status and are also more likely to keep themselves healthy.

In India HIV is associated with behaviors such as homosexuality, drug addiction, prostitution or promiscuity, behaviours that often result in shunning.

Copyright Srinivas Kuruganti, posted with permission
High risk behaviors can lead to HIV.

A study by the International Center for Research on Women found that the stigmatization that Indians face is part of the problem.

As Kangla Online reports:

“The epidemic of fear, stigmatization and discrimination has undermined the ability of individuals, families and societies to protect themselves and provide support and reassurance to those affected. This hinders, in no small way, efforts at stemming the epidemic. It complicates decisions about testing, disclosure of status, and ability to negotiate prevention behaviors, including use of family planning services.”

Dola Mohapatra, Asia Regional Director for Christian Children’s Fund, talked with Everyday Christian’s Peter Elliot about the challenges India faces with HIV/AIDS.

Mohapatra stated that India is a time bomb when it comes to HIV and could in fact quickly overtake Africa’s patient counts in the future. In the states of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka the virus is at a pandemic stage.

The most difficult problem in India is health care access, both in diagnosing and in then treating patients with the proper ARV drugs.

While there are local pharmaceutical companies in India with more reasonably priced medications than the United States they are not available nationwide. In some areas the government has taken the lead and provides those who are sick with HIV free medication.

India as a nation is trying to combat the stigmas that hit those with HIV. They are now running ads on television to say that it’s safe to touch something who has the virus and to provide assistance to them.

Mohapatha said, “All CCF projects are involved in the “Linked Worker Scheme,” (LWS) where we train community level workers to provide counseling, care and support to AIDS-affected families and link them with health services. With the help of local governments and partners we provide ARV drugs to families and work with local youth groups in prevention efforts for contracting HIV/AIDS.”

India faces HIV problems in every aspect, including their military. The first HIV-positive Assam Rifles soldier was detected in 1992. By 2005 32 soldiers had died of AIDS and another 180 were in serious condition from the virus.

Health Dev.com reports:

“The time has come to wake up with HIV infection among our troops assuming serious dimensions. Now we find more soldiers dying to HIV- AIDS than to bullets fired by militants,” Lieutenant General Bhopinder Singh, Director General of Assam Rifles, said in Meghalaya state capital Shillong on Friday.

“We have a challenge at hand and we need to tackle it sensitively,” he told AFP at the force headquarters.

Copyright Srinivas Kuruganti, posted with permission

As India struggles to cope with the HIV/AIDS epidemic their health care still has issues with the stigmas that comes from the disease.

Copyright Srinivas Kuruganti, posted with permission
HIV patient in India

The PGI is still turning people away in India.

Times of India reports:

After testing positive at a hospital in Patiala, the couple was shown the way to PGI for hope. “When we came here, doctors turned us away saying that our nearest anti-retroviral therapy centre was in Patiala’s Rajindra Medical College and, therefore, we should go there,” said a disheartened Sukhpal Singh, 38.

Vineeta Gupta, the director of State AIDS Control Organisation discussed with Times of India the issue.

Sensing the gravity of the issue, the director added, “Patients can forward their complaints to our grievance cell that was formed recently to address such issues and more.” On the defensive, PGI denied the allegations. “The patients have been asked to attend OPD for treatment and their tests will follow,” said Manju Wadwalkar, PGI’s official spokesperson. Whether or not any damage control follows remains to be seen at the institute that caters to patients from Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh.

Copyright Srinivas Kuruganti, posted with permission

That incident though is in violation of the nation’s policy. The Supreme Court panel consisting of f Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, as well as Justices Ashok Bhan and P. Sathasivam has ruled that all of India’s states must treat people with HIV/AIDS “in a professional manner, treating them always with dignity and care” and with “no discrimination of stigma whatsoever.” Medical care is not to be denied to those dealing with the virus.

Copyright Srinivas Kuruganti, posted with permission
HIV in India

All photography was provided by Srinivas Kuruganti. His work highlights those in India facing life with HIV/AIDS. He should be commended for bringing a face to the plight. I would also like to thank journalist Sandeep Junnarkar for his work on the photo project with Mr. Kuruganti. Thank you.


Opinion: Does The Pope Want Africans To Die?

Pope Benedict XVI is telling his faithful in Africa, where HIV is rampant that condoms are not the answer. The head of the Catholic church is now dividing even the clergy with his outrageous statements.
For the first time Pope Benedict XVI has commented on condoms. His comments though are shocking and could hurt efforts to curb the HIV virus in Africa.

AP quotes the Pope:

“You can’t resolve it with the distribution of condoms,” the pope told reporters aboard the Alitalia plane headed to Yaounde, Cameroon, where he will begin a seven-day pilgrimage on the continent. “On the contrary, it increases the problem.”

Benedict’s first papal visit to the continent will be to Cameroon and Angola.

The Pope’s comments though are the exact opposite of reality. Reality is the only means of protection from the HIV virus during sexual intercourse is a condom. While not the only way to fight HIV condoms are one of the few ways that work.

The Chronicle Reports:

“Instead, his opposition to condoms conveys that religious dogma is more important to him than the lives of Africans,” said Rebecca Hodes with the Treatment Action Campaign in South Africa.

Telling a continent where over 22 million people are suffering, dying and infecting others not to use a condom is akin to playing Russian roulette with the masses.

Nuns and priests working with HIV know better. They have had to struggle with the church’s stance on condoms. In the end, life wins that struggle.

For a religious head to tell his flock not to protect themselves simply because it is also a means of birth control is disgusting. For a man who has not bothered to tour the areas where HIV has devastated to place judgments is even worse. This is the first trip he’s taken to Africa. He’s been the pope for four years.

It’s widely known that the Catholic Church is against birth control and premartial sex. That is all well and good but to undermine the realities of a disease that is leaving millions dead is just short of criminal.


FDA Approves the Next-Gen Female Condom

The FDA has just approved the next-gen female condom. This is a dream come true for public health advocates who have touted that the birth control is a way to protect women from the HIV virus.
Soon women whose partners refuse to use a condom can reach into their bags for an affordable ‘rubber’ of their own. The female condom has been on the market for 16 years but the cost has always been much higher than a male condom. It still is at $2.80 to $4 a piece. With the FDA approval for a next-gen female condom that price may change to just about 60 cents.

PR Newswire reports:

“We join women around the world in applauding the FDA’s swift action to approve the FC2 female condom,” stated Serra Sippel, executive director of the Center for Health and Gender Equity. “The HIV pandemic among women requires increased investment in woman-centered prevention options, and FC2 approval is an important step forward in putting the power of prevention in women’s hands.”

The next-gen condom is made out of synthetic nitrile, a product much less expensive for Chicago-based Female Health Company to produce.

Scientific America reports:

“Having a less expensive Female Condom increases the probability of women who need it having access to it,” Mary Ann Leeper, the company’s senior strategic adviser, told Reuters after the FDA approved the FC2 on Wednesday.

The female condom works much like a male condom. Covering the cervix, it open with a ring that protects the outside of the vagina. It is about 6.5 inches long. The newer version will look the same but be made with the less expensive rubber.

So far the United Nations has distributed the original version to 142 countries. Some women have said that the condom is ugly and that it makes squeaking sounds. In the product information pamphlet it is recommended that women use the product three times before making a final decision on it. Because the outer ring is visible partners know that the birth control is being used.

The female condom has potential in saving lives. It gives women the power to protect themselves from the HIV virus and birth control. It is the only birth control that is made for women that blocks the virus from the body.

Prevention Now reports:

“Female condoms are a vital tool for prevention, women’s empowerment and communication between
partners, and in Zimbabwe, we greatly welcome this decision by the U.S. FDA,” said Edinah Masiyiwa,
executive director of Women’s Action Group (WAG) – Zimbabwe. “Women and men alike benefit
from the female condom, with regard to their health, happiness and pleasure.”

It may take up to a year for the next-gen condom to be on the market. Advocates are pushing for the United States government to react quickly though to ensure rapid expansion for female condom distribution and education.

“We praise Congress for including specific references to female condoms, as both male and female condoms are safe and effective HIV prevention tools that are available to women and men today. We now look to the next leader of the Office of the Global AIDS Coordinator to ensure that female condoms are truly available, accessible and well-programmed for women and men worldwide,” said Serra Sippel.

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