Monthly Archives: May 2011

Blind Faith: The Impact Religion Can Have On HIV

Source: By Winnie Ssanyu Sseruma

When people face a traumatic event or experience in life they often seek solace in something they believe in; something that will offer potential solutions and fill the emotional and spiritual vacuum when everything else has failed. As you’d expect, many people living with HIV seek solace in their religious faith, and for some that becomes their whole life’s focus. However, religious faith and HIV continue to have a challenging relationship, to say the very least.

At the beginning of the HIV epidemic back in the Eighties, some faith leaders preached that only ‘sinners’ contracted the virus, advising that the only solution for those living with HIV was to pray hard for forgiveness. While many faith leaders have since realised that HIV is simply a virus that can affect anyone, unfortunately some haven’t. In fact, a few have gone even further, telling those in their congregations who are living with HIV to stop taking their Antiretroviral treatment (ARVs) and instead concentrate on praying because that’s the only way they will experience emotional and physical healing.

Whether praying to be healed from HIV is being preached in select churches, or some church-goers living with HIV are misinterpreting what their faith leaders are telling them, a number of HIV positive people have died as a result of stopping their HIV medication. What remains unclear is how many people are being converted to this way of thinking. Is this a big problem warranting a global intervention, or are we making a mountain out of a molehill? I personally don’t know the definitive answers to these questions, but what I can say is that where prayer and HIV healing are concerned, I have witnessed and have heard of some pretty bizarre behaviour among people living with HIV, particularly within African communities in the UK and in some parts of Africa.

ARV treatments save lives and many of us who are taking them now would not even be here today to tell the tale if we didn’t have access to them. We now have scientific evidence from recent trials to confirm that these drugs not only save lives but can also act as an effective barrier to HIV transmission. This is by no means new information for those living with HIV and or working in the HIV sector, but having sound evidence to back our experiences up is always a bonus.

Despite such compelling evidence, there are always some who, for one reason or another, continue to reject anti-HIV medication. I have had conversations with people who have told me that they’d originally tested HIV positive but miraculously no longer carry the virus as a result of prayer and rejection of ARV treatment. I have also heard of HIV positive people who have actually testified at their places of worship that they have been ‘cured of HIV through prayer’, as well as a small minority of faith leaders who somehow manage to convince their followers that taking ARVs will kill them outright. Some HIV positive people also visit witch doctors, sangomas, and/or traditional healers, and are predictably told that no trace of HIV exists in their blood, encouraging them to abandon their ARVs altogether. In fact, the discussion about witch doctors and HIV deserves a blog of its own!

Overall, I respect the fact that faith is very individual and private, and whatever people want to believe is entirely up to them. However, this can make it very difficult to monitor any negative impacts that religious faith might have on the lives of vulnerable populations targeted by those who wish to exploit them and extort what little money they have. How many people are targeted, I don’t think anyone knows, but I strongly feel that this is a worrying phenomenon that deserves much more attention, and possible interventions, if we are to continue to help save lives.

What I am very clear about is that ARV treatment and prayer should complement each other, not compete against each other. Above all else, the God I have faith in is a generous one and helps those who help themselves by taking advantage of the opportunities presented to them

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New Clinic’s Advice On HIV Testing

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An estimated 86,500 adults are living with HIV in the UK, according to figures from 2009, but up to a quarter of those people haven’t been diagnosed, which means they don’t know they’re infected and this is one of the main reasons why a new clinic has opened in Corby this month.

The Knowledge Clinic, which is free and confidential, launched last week at Great Oakley Medical Centre in Corby.  The clinic is the result of a partnership between health and voluntary services and is being run by local voluntary organisation, Sunrise for two hours every Monday afternoon, from 12.30pm.

Dr Joanne Watt, a GP from Great Oakley Medical Centre, who has instigated the project, said: “I started looking into this because I have been a GP and sexual health doctor for eight years and we have had a sexual health clinic here for the last three years, so it seemed like a natural progression.

“I knew someone from LASS, the Leicester Aids Support Service [sic], and I was aware that they had been offering a drop-in clinic for HIV testing for a couple of years, and I just thought it would be good to bring it to Corby.

“For Northamptonshire, up to four in every 1,000 will be HIV positive, with some areas being higher or lower than others.  There is a slightly higher prevalence in Corby compared to the rest of the county, so we thought it was a good place to start the pilot scheme.”

HIV is short for Human Immunodeficiency Virus, and it attacks a person’s immune system.  A healthy immune system provides a natural defence against disease and infection.  If the immune system is damaged by HIV, it increases the risk of developing a serious infection or disease, such as cancer.

HIV is spread through the exchange of bodily fluids. This most commonly happens during unprotected sexual contact, such as vaginal, oral and anal sex. People who inject illegal drugs and share needles are also at risk of catching HIV. The condition can also be spread from a mother to her unborn child.

Dr Watt said: “It can be unprotected sex between men and women or men and men but it can be many years before anyone has any symptoms of HIV.”

“One in three people with HIV do not know that they have it, so anyone who has ever had unprotected sex should have a test, as people look completely normal until it’s very advanced and so there is no way of being able to tell before it gets to that stage.”

The HIV test available at the Knowledge Clinic involves just a simple finger-prick blood test, the results of which can be seen within minutes.

Dr Watt said: “It’s like a pregnancy test in the sense that the results appear before your eyes.  if the result comes back as reactive, the person will be seen that day at the sexual health clinic within the surgery, where they will have the second test to confirm it”.

“The finger-prick test is a new technology for the test, and so we will always check it against the more traditional test carried out at the sexual health clinic, but it’s still very reliable and is being used more widely.

“It’s completely confidential – the information won’t go on your medical records or anything – and if people want to just come along and find out more about HIV and the test before they actually have it, that’s absolutely fine, too; we will see anyone.

“People don’t need to be referred by their GP, and the clinic isn’t just there for Corby residents.anyone from the county can come along and have the test if they wish.  Our aim is to just make sure as many people know their HIV status as possible, because if they know their status, they can stay well. it’s all about having the knowledge”.

“If someone finds that they have HIV, as long as they take their medication, they can stay well, but if they don’t know they have it, that’s when they get poorly, and for how simple the test is, it’s really not worth that risk.”

The Knowledge Clinic is open at Great Oakley Medical Centre every Monday, between 12.30pm and 2.30pm. No appointment is needed

LASS also offer a completely free and confidential rapid HIV test and you’ll get the results within 60 seconds from a simple finger prick test.  We use the Insti HIV test produced by BioLytical laboratories.  The test is 99.96% accurate from 90 days post contact for detecting HIV 1 and 2 antibodies.

Appointments are not always necessary, if you would like a test, please contact us on 0116 2559995

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Leicestershire AIDS Support Services Nominated For National Award

Leicestershire Aids Support Services has been nominated for a major national prize at the UK charity sector’s most prestigious awards scheme, The Charity Awards.

LASS provide support, information and advocacy to people affected by HIV and AIDS as well as working to prevent the spread of the disease through community action, awareness raising and training.  We have been shortlisted in the Healthcare & Medical Research category.  We are hoping to pick up the coveted award at an awards ceremony in London on 9th June attended by personalities including comedian Hugh Dennis, author Monica Ali, star of Strictly Come Dancing Bruno Tonioli and newsreaders Krishnan Guru Murthy and Andrea Catherwood.

Chosen from a record number of entries, LASS has been shortlisted by the Charity Awards judges for its Rapid HIV testing service, a drop-in service set up in 2009 to provide tests for local people as soon as they make the decision to have one.  Leicester City has the highest rising HIV rate in the East Midlands and 6th highest in the country, due in part to the number of people living locally who are unknowingly infected.  Since opening its doors, the Rapid HIV testing service has delivered more than 400 tests, helping to prevent late diagnosis and onward transmission.  If we win this category, we will also be in the running to pick up the Overall Award for excellence in charity management – a prestigious award given to the best of the 10 category winners.

Patrick Bowe Chair of LASS Board of Trustees said:

‘I am delighted that LASS such a small charity had been shortlisted in such a big field. This is a testament to the high quality work of the volunteers and staff.’

The annual Charity Awards ceremony, sponsored by the Charities Aid Foundation, The Leadership Trust and The Times, is the highest profile event in the charity calendar.  Since launching 12 years ago, the awards have honoured hundreds of charities, large and small, from across the UK, acknowledging their outstanding work and achievements and the tireless commitment of the people behind them.  The charities, which submit their own entries, are each shortlisted for specific initiatives which have improved the delivery of their charitable objectives and which demonstrate outstanding examples of best practice from which other charities can learn.

Jenny Hand CEO at LASS said:

‘We are all very proud of the real difference our support services, awareness raising and HIV testing is making to so many local people. We have been judged to be one of the best 32 Charities in the Country by the Charity Awards panel. This is a real achievement by our volunteers and staff in a particularly challenging year with so many threats to funding sources.’

The Charity Awards 2011 is organised by Civil Society Media, the leading publishing and training company for the voluntary sector.  The distinguished panel of judges includes Andrew Hind CB, former chief executive of the Charity Commission, Dr John Low CBE, chief executive of the Charities Aid Foundation, Dame Mary Marsh, founding director of the Clore Social Leadership Programme and former chief executive of the NSPCC, Sir Christopher Kelly, chair of the King’s Fund, Lesley-Anne Alexander, chief executive of RNIB and Martin Brookes, chief executive of New Philanthropy Capital.

Daniel Phelan, organiser of the Charity Awards 2011 comments:

“The Charity Awards recognise and reward the exceptional work that takes place within the voluntary sector right across the UK and beyond.  This year, our 12th, has seen a record number of organisations decide that it is their time to take a bow, demonstrating that charities, rather than being disheartened by the challenging times we face, are finding strength and inspiration in adversity.  It is a great testimony to the spirit of the sector and makes the acknowledgement of the major and selfless contribution they make to society, more important than ever.

By being shortlisted, LASS has already demonstrated that it is amongst the best managed charities in the UK. I wish everyone involved the best of luck on the night.”

LASS offer a completely free and confidential rapid HIV test and you’ll get the results within 60 seconds from a simple finger prick test.  We use the Insti HIV test produced by BioLytical laboratories.  The test is 99.96% accurate from 90 days post contact for detecting HIV 1 and 2 antibodies.

Appointments are not always necessary, if you would like a test, please contact us on 0116 2559995

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Diet, exercise and cancer screening boosted by ‘highly feasible’ intervention targeted at HIV serodiscordant couples

Fruit and vegetable consumption and exercise frequency can be increased by participation in a health promotion intervention designed to reduce the risk of chronic diseases, investigators report in the April 25th edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

The research involved African-American HIV-serodiscordant heterosexual couples who were randomised to receive either information and motivation about the benefits of good diet and exercise, or a general HIV/sexual health promotion intervention.

Up to a year after completing the programme, couples participating in the healthy living intervention were significantly more likely to report eating a diet rich in fresh fruit and vegetables and regular exercise.

Moreover, participation in the enhanced health promotion information was associated with the consumption of less fatty food, and increased rates of screening for prostate and breast cancer.

“The present results demonstrate that a health promotion intervention had significant effects on multiple health behaviors in African-American HIV-positive and HIV-negative individuals,” comment the investigators. The author of an accompanying editorial was “particularly impressed with the intervention.”

Chronic conditions such as cardiovascular disease are now an important cause of illness and death in people with HIV. Therefore, addressing modifiable risk factors for such illnesses is now an important priority of HIV care.

African-Americans represent 48% of all HIV-positive patients in the US, and African-Americans generally eat fewer fruit and vegetables, exercise less frequently, and have poorer survival rates for prostate and breast cancer than white Americans.

Investigators therefore wished to see if an intervention could improve a range of health behaviours in HIV-serodiscordant African-American couples enrolled in an HIV/sexual health promotion study.

The study was conducted between 2003 and 2007. The intervention consisted of eight two-hour weekly sessions and was designed to build skills and knowledge about eating lots of fruit and vegetables, exercise, the reduction of fat in diet, screening for prostate and breast cancer, and alcohol use.

A total of 550 individuals were randomised to receive the intervention, and 520 individuals were randomised into a control arm, and received HIV/sexual health information. Outcomes were monitored six and twelve months after completion of the trial.

At baseline, only 21% of participants overall reported eating five or more portions of fruit and vegetables a day, and fewer than 20% exercised regularly.

Six and twelve months after completing the study, individuals in the intervention arm were 38% more likely than those in the control arm to report having a diet that incorporated large amounts of fruit and vegetables (odds ratio [OR] = 1.38; 95% CI, 1.18-1.62, p < 0.001). Patients in the intervention arm were also significantly less likely to report the consumption of fatty foods (p = 0.003).

They were also 39% more likely to report regular exercise (OR = 1.39; 95% CI, 1.22-1.59, p < 0.001).

Rates of prostate and breast cancer screening were also significantly higher in the intervention arm (p < 0.001 and p = 0.009 respectively).

However, alcohol consumption was comparable in the two arms of the study. The investigators speculate that this was because individuals in the control arm received information about the role of alcohol in HIV risk behaviour.

“We are optimistic that the present study offers an approach that may help reduce the disproportionately high morbidity and mortality rates from chronic diseases in African-Americans,” conclude the authors.

In his accompanying editorial, Dr Mitchell H. Katz of the Los Angeles Department of Health described the intervention as “highly feasible”, adding that although it was conducted in serodiscordant couples, “there is no reason to believe that [the] intervention would not work among HIV-infected persons.”

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Pharmaceutical giant recalls batches of HIV drug Prezista

Pharmaceutical company Janssen-Cilag International – part of the Johnson and Johnson group – has announced a recall of the HIV/AIDS medicine PREZISTA after traces of fungicide TBA were found within it.

The recall was prompted by complaints from Prezista users that the product had an uncharacteristic odour. Janssen, a division of Johnson & Johnson, determined the odour was likely caused by a substance called 2,4,6-tribromoanisole, or TBA.

The countries affected include Austria, Canada, Germany, Ireland and the United Kingdom. In the UK only Prezista 400mg is affected.

Currently, only five batches have been recalled.

There is little information on the dangers or health effects of TBA, but it is known to be a common byproduct of a chemical preservative sometimes applied to wood used in the construction of pallets on which products are transported and stored.

Janssen believes the source of TBA in the Prezista is a result of the wooden pallets used to transport and store the medicine.

In January 2010 the company implemented a corporate policy to require all suppliers to verify they do not use pallets made from chemically-treated wood.

Earlier today, Ronan Collins, the Communications and Public Affairs Manager for Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, spoke to

He said: “In January 2010 we instituted a number of actions across our organisation to reduce the potential of TBA contamination. We implemented a stringent policy that required all manufacturing sites to eliminate “at risk” pallets from our channels, and inspect all incoming pallets. We require that any pallets in our facilities are heat-treated rather than chemically-treated.  We require suppliers to verify that they do not use pallets made from chemically-treated wood. An internal investigation is underway with our suppliers to evaluate the potential source of this TBA issue.”

Collins noted that more information will be available as the investigation progresses.

Jason Warriner, Clinical Director for Terrence Higgins Trust, warns: “People with HIV should not stop taking their medicines under any circumstances.”

He adds, “From the information provided by Janssen-Cilag, the substance involved is not considered to be toxic, but may cause nausea and vomiting in some people. The recalled batches have a distinctive unpleasant odour. If you are on Darunavir 400mg, and have any concerns, you are advised to speak to the pharmacy at your treatment centre, but continue taking your treatment in the meantime.”

By Billy Taylor

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Campaigning for fair benefits for people living with HIV

It’s been a busy week in welfare benefits! The National AIDS Trust had some successes and new opportunities in their campaigning for a disability benefits system that meets the needs of people living with HIV.

They wish to thank everyone who came out to join them at the Hardest Hit march yesterday. It was a very successful day, with 5000 disabled people marching together against benefits cuts that will hit them the hardest. It was great to see so many people marching together on behalf of people living with HIV.

There was lots of media coverage, including a Guardian live blog, and on Twitter #hardesthit was trending throughout the day. @NAT_AIDS_Trust was live-tweeting from the march- follow them to see what we were saying!

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Review of Information, Advice and Counselling Services

Consultation: 7th March 2011 – 27th May 2011

This consultation is to find out what people think about services that provide Information and Advice on social care and support in Leicestershire. It also considers the contribution from Adults and Communities to several counselling services.

Advice and Information
Leicestershire County Council are seeking the views of people who use services, their carers, providers of services and the citizens of Leicestershire on the proposals to:

  • Change the way in which information and advice services are provided in Leicestershire
  • Consult on the methods and types of services which can best support people to access information and advice
In addition the Council commissions a range of specific services to support people with a variety of needs.
Counselling Services
A number of counselling services have been considered as part of the review, including two Aids and HIV services.

How can you take part in the Consultation?

You can:
If you require the information contained in this publication in another version e.g. hard copy, large print, Braille, tape or an alternative language please call 0116 305 8187 or email:
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