Monthly Archives: December 2013

Shuga: The TV series that’s getting people talking about HIV.

A British-based film director is helping to break the stigma of HIV in Africa by making a fast-paced television drama that is being shown in 74 countries.

Biyi Bandele has made the eight-part series Shuga with funding from media giant Viacom, depicting sexual risk-taking among students in Nigeria’s capital, Lagos. It is seen as having a critical role in changing attitudes to sexual health in Nigeria, which, with 3.3 million patients, has the highest HIV rate in the world after South Africa.

Mr Bandele, who lives in Brixton, south London, has already won plaudits at the Toronto film festival this year for his feature film Half of a Yellow Sun, an adaption of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Orange-prize winning novel and featuring Hollywood  stars Chiwetel Ejiofor and Thandie Newton.

“I had always thought HIV was an urgent issue that we didn’t even talk about in Nigeria. People there will say: ‘We don’t have that problem’ but then you look at the statistics and it’s huge,” he told  The Independent.

Shuga is a funded by MTV’s Staying Alive Foundation and is being distributed to broadcasting networks free of charge. Mr Bandele’s Nigerian series is the third season.

The first two series, which  were filmed in Kenya and featured the love lives of Nairobi’s young middle class, have already had a marked effect in changing attitudes to HIV.

The title of the second series, Shuga: Love, Sex and Money, is an indication of how the serious message is told in the language of popular culture.

Research conducted by James Lees, senior lecturer in the HIV and AIDS programme at the University of Western Cape in South Africa, found the first episodes of Shuga have been far more effective than conventional teaching methods in conveying the threat of HIV to young people.

Prior to watching the programme, 65 per cent of young people told the study they believed they could “successfully navigate” the risk of HIV. That fell to 30 per cent after they viewed the drama, and to 5 per cent when they had taken part in a subsequent discussion relating to the TV show.

Mr Bandele said the secret was to use drama to engage with an audience not used to receiving messages in such  a format.

“Shuga doesn’t patronise the audience,” he said. “It’s doing something which society hasn’t done – it doesn’t stigmatise HIV or sex, it just says ‘this is life’ and it gets people talking.”

He has advised writers on the series to avoid any  moral judgments.

“On most Nigerian university campuses you will find posters promoting abstinence before marriage and if you ask where you can get a condom it’s almost possible.”

Mr Bandele, 46, who was born in northern Nigeria and moved to Lagos when he was 16, said the country was “aspirational” and that even audiences in poorer communities would respond to glamorous, uptown storylines.

“One of the reasons we chose the setting is that when you usually see Africans on TV they are queuing up for food aid. You would think it’s a continent made up entirely of victims.”

His series also attempts to address the rarely-discussed subject of domestic violence.

The director moved to England in 1990 after his skills as a playwright were recognised by the British Council.

He is travelling to film festivals in India, Dubai and Sweden for screenings of Half of a Yellow Sun, which will go on general release in the UK at the end of March.

His first episode of Shuga had a premiere in Lagos on  1 December and the series is to be shown in Britain on the entertainment channel BET from January.

“I just hope it gets people talking,” he said.

You can watch the whole series from the following link: http://www.youtube.com/user/MTVShugatv?feature=watch

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Successful HIV treatment may be on the way!

hivlab

Biomedicine researchers at Dresden’s Technical University have succeeded in curing several HIV-infected mice with a new method which uses an enzyme to cut the virus from the DNA of infected cells.

“There are various methods and similar approaches, but removing the virus from infected cells is unique,” said Professor Joachim Hauber, head of the antiviral strategy section at partner research institute, Hamburg’s Heinrich Pette Institute.

He said this approach was the only one so far which could actually reverse an HIV infection, leaving the treated cells healthy.

Whether this would function with people could only be established in clinical trials, he said, for which the money is not yet available.

Dresden team leader Professor Frank Buchholz said the ‘molecular scissors’ could be ready to use in ten years – as a somatic genetic therapy (using a patient’s own genetically altered cells).

“Blood would be taken from patients and the stem cells which can form blood cells, removed,” he said.

Laboratory work would introduce the crucial HIV-cutting enzyme into the stem cells, altering their DNA. They would then be put back into the patient.

The theory is that the genetically altered immune cells would reproduce, cut the HIV from infected cells – enabling them to function again.  This was the effect seen at least in part, among the mice.

“The amount of virus was clearly reduced, and even no longer to be found in the blood,” said Hauber.

President of the German Aids Society, Professor Jürgen Rockstroh said he hoped funding could be found for further work on the approach.  “It is one of the most exciting things of all,” he said. “There is a vague hope of cure, but that must first be proven.”

The Dresden team have managed to create this enzyme – via mutation and selection – so that it identifies HIV.

“The HI-pathogen is a retrovirus which gets into the genetic substance in DNA,” said Buchholz. Certain recombinase-class enzymes can cut up the DNA double helix and put it back together again in a different pattern.

The researchers have managed to manipulate the enzyme so that it can identify a particular sequence and remove it – and they say it is more than 90 percent effective in identifying the HI-virus in this way.

Hauber said the deciding phase, of bringing the approach to treating people in clinical studies, would be difficult in Germany.

“The potential is not being used,” he said, claiming that pharmaceutical companies have until now shown little interest in investing in potential cures for Aids.

He and Buchholz said they would be looking for sponsors and public money for their future research.

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Merry Christmas (and our opening times over Christmas & New Year).

A heartfelt, “Merry Christmas” and a Happy New Year to all of our service users, clients, volunteers and partners from all at Leicestershire AIDS Support Services.

Our opening times over the Christmas/New Year seasonal period.

  •  24/12/13 (Tuesday) Open until 15:30.
  • 25/12/13 (Wednesday) Closed – Bank Holiday Christmas Day
  • 26/12/13 (Thursday) Closed – Bank Holiday Boxing Day
  • 27/12/13 (Friday) Closed
  • 28/12/13 (Saturday) Closed (Weekend)
  • 29/12/13 (Sunday) Closed (Weekend)
  • 30/12/13 (Monday) Open as usual
  • 31/12/13 (Tuesday) Open as usual
  • 01/01/14 (Wednesday) Closed Bank Holiday New Year’s Day
  • 02/01/14 (Thursday) Open as usual
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Sex Education & Government / Internet Censorship

wordle

The #CensoredUK hashtag, spearheaded by the Sex and Censorship group, has been drawing attention to some of the unexpected sites that end up being blocked when internet providers buckle to government demands to censor “adult content”.

Nine out of 10 homes will have porn filters on their computers by the end of January, after a Government deal with four big internet providers. Web giants TalkTalk, Virgin, Sky and BT, have all agreed to introduce network filters which can block inappropriate content from all the online devices within the home.

Across several mobile internet providers, however, harmless sex and relationships education sites are being blocked by their web filters.  For example, the sexual health charity Brook, has turned up on website checkers as being default blocked. But this is plainly not adult content, so why?

Another site that is blocked in some cases is the NHS page about sex and young people, which contains questions and answers about the changes teens can expect during puberty, advice around not abusing alcohol, and support for people who want to remain abstinent.

Most mobile providers offer a service where you can report incorrectly categorised sites. It’s unclear what happens when sex ed sites are reported, however.

And a separate study shows over-zealous Wi-Fi filters are blocking many harmless and helpful sites. One in three public Wi-Fi hotspots are preventing access to harmless sex education and religious sites, the research by AdaptiveMobile carried out during September across 179 locations in Birmingham, Manchester and London found.

Sexual health is not “adult content”. Lumping important (and for many young people, the only) sexual health advice they will have access to in with porn is a mistake.  More to the point, politicians need to understand that making internet providers do so is not the Government’s job.

There is also a concern for LGBT teens, some of whom will not have the support of their families and may have little access to safe, reliable information about sex and sexuality. What about them?

Maybe internet providers mistakenly believe that good, thorough sex and relationships education is available in schools, but as the Wonder Women Better Sex Education campaign has demonstrated this year, it isn’t. Sex ed in schools as it currently exists is not fit for purpose. The teaching guidelines haven’t been updated in over a decade and make no mention of the internet.

There are of course a myriad of other problems with the filters system. Sites that are critical of the way sex and sexuality is reported in the media are at risk of being blocked; the problematic news stories that make the rounds about gay people, trans people, and others won’t necessarily be.

Once a Government gets a taste for censorship, they rarely stop at “adult content”, as well. Think that the blocks accidentally keeping young people away from educational resources is a one off? Just wait until a political blog or forum you read gets blocked under the excuse of “banning extremist speech”. It’s not a question of whether this will happen, it’s when.

The bottom line is understanding the deep irony that by presenting internet censorship in the wrapper of protecting kids, we may actually be keeping them from information that has been shown to actually protect them. The question now is: does the Government care?

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Nelson Mandela (1918 – 2013) His Enduring Legacy

NMandela

Nelson Mandela, one of the world’s most revered statesmen, who led the struggle to replace the apartheid regime of South Africa with a multi-racial democracy has died at home, surrounded by his family at the age of 95.

Nelson Mandela had been hospitalised four times since December 2012 and was taken to a hospital in Pretoria four months ago with a recurring lung infection.  During this time, official news from the hospital had been quiet but family members had said that Mandela’s condition has improved and was expected to return home.

Mandela’s medical team advised President Jacob Zuma of a slight improvement in the former president’s health.  He visited Mandela in hospital in Pretoria after abandoning a planned trip to a summit in Mozambique.

Mandela’s health is “perilous” and he is being kept alive by life support, according to documents filed in the court

Yet, it was confirmed earlier this evening.  In a statement on South African national TV, Jacob Zuma said Mr Mandela had “departed” and was at peace.  “Our nation has lost its greatest son,” Mr Zuma said.

He said Mr Mandela would receive a full state funeral, and flags would be flown at half-mast.

Nelson Mandela was a South African anti-apartheid revolutionary and politician who served as President of South Africa from 1994 to 1999. He was the first black South African to hold the office, and the first elected in a fully representative, multiracial election. His government focused on dismantling the legacy of apartheid through tackling institutionalised racism, poverty and inequality, and fostering racial reconciliation. Politically an African nationalist and democratic socialist, he served as the President of the African National Congress (ANC) from 1991 to 1997. Internationally, Mandela was the Secretary General of the Non-Aligned Movement from 1998 to 1999.

He declined to run for a second term, and was succeeded by his deputy Thabo Mbeki, subsequently becoming an elder statesman.

You can find more information on the life of Nelson Mandela from the following links.

As an elder statesman, Mr Mandela focused on charitable work in combating poverty and HIV/AIDS through the Nelson Mandela Foundation which was founded in 1999.

In December 2000 Amidst a resounding standing ovation from the delegates at the Thirteenth International AIDS Conference in Durban, Nelson Mandela took the stage at the closing ceremony at the International Convention Centre and used this opportunity to add his voice to the worldwide struggle against HIV/AIDS.

Mandela said at the outset, ‘It is never my custom to use words lightly. If 27 years in prison and 27 years of silence in solitude have taught me anything, it is how precious words are!’

Referring to the controversy over major issues related to AIDS raised by South African President Thabo Mbeki, Mandela asked his countrymen to support their President and his scientific enquiry, saying, ‘The President of this country is a man of great intellect who takes scientific thinking very seriously and he leads a government that I know to be committed to those principles of science and reason.’

Stressing the need for us not to indulge in mud-slinging and worthless arguments, he said, ‘The ordinary people of the world, particularly the poor – who on our continent will again carry a disproportionate burden of this scourge – would wish that the dispute about the primacy of politics or science be put on the backburner and that we proceed to address the needs and concerns of those suffering and dying. And this can only be done in partnership. History will judge us harshly if we fail to do so right now.’

‘Wasting words and energy in worthless ridicule distracts us from our main course of action, which must be not only to develop an AIDS vaccine [sic], but also to love, care for, and comfort those who are dying of HIV/AIDS. A vaccine shall only prevent the further spread of HIV/AIDS to those not already infected; we must also direct our concern towards those who are already HIV positive.’

At the time, and still prevalent today in South Africa, employment opportunities and a dignified life are still a distant dream for HIV-positive patients even in the most advanced social set-ups.  HIV positive patients are refused basic treatment in many medical facilities if they reveal their HIV-positive status and some doctors remain unwilling to attend to HIV-positive patients.

Mandela did not mince words when speaking on the magnitude of the AIDS pandemic. ‘Let us not equivocate: a tragedy of unprecedented proportions is unfolding in Africa. AIDS in Africa today is claiming more lives than the sum total of all wars, famines, floods, and the ravages of deadly diseases such as malaria.

‘It is devastating families and communities, overwhelming and depleting health care services, and robbing schools of both students and teachers. Business has suffered, or will suffer, losses of personnel, productivity and profits; economic growth is being undermined; and scarce development resources have to be diverted to deal with the consequences of the pandemic.

‘HIV/AIDS is having a devastating impact on families, communities, societies, and economies. Decades have been chopped from life expectancy and young child mortality is expected to more than double in the most severely affected countries of Africa. AIDS is clearly a disaster, effectively wiping out the development gains of the past decades and sabotaging the future.’

Society at large remains largely unprepared to meet the challenge of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. A massive effort is required if we are to successfully tackle the menace of HIV/AIDS. As Mandela put it, we need to ‘move from rhetoric to action, and action at an unprecedented scale…’.

Mandela had also stressed that HIV is wholly preventable. ‘I am shocked to learn that 1 in 2, that is, half, of our young people will die of AIDS. The most frightening thing is that all of these infections were preventable.’

Speaking on strategies to prevent the further spread of HIV, he pointed out, ‘The experiences of Uganda, Senegal and Thailand have shown that serious investments in, and mobilisation around, these actions make a real difference. Stigma and discrimination can be stopped, new infections can be prevented, and the capacity of families and communities to care for people living with HIV and AIDS can be enhanced.’

Outlining the future course of the war to contain the spread of HIV in South Africa, Mandela exhorted the delegates to remember that, ‘The challenge is to move from rhetoric to action, and action at an unprecedented intensity and scale. There is a need for us to focus on what we know works. We need to break the silence, banish stigma and discrimination, and ensure total inclusiveness within the struggle against AIDS.’

‘We need bold initiatives to prevent new infections among young people, and large-scale actions to prevent mother-to-child transmission, and at the same time we need to continue the international effort of searching for appropriate vaccines. We need to aggressively treat opportunistic infections, and work with families and communities to care for children and young people, to protect them from violence and abuse, and to ensure that they grow up in a safe and supportive environment.’

Nelson Mandela succeeded in issuing a call to action as the world prepared to enter the new century facing one of the biggest public health disasters mankind has ever known.

46664

The non-profit organisation, “46664” (four, double six, six four) founded just a year prior to this speech takes its name from the prison number (prisoner number 466 of 1964) given to Mr Mandela when he was incarcerated for life on Robben Island, off Cape Town, South Africa.  Mr Mandela gave his prison number to the organisation as a permanent reminder of the sacrifices he was prepared to make for a humanitarian and social justice causes he passionately believed in.

In creating 46664 initially as a global HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention campaign, Mr Mandela realised that to reach the youth all over the world specifically, he needed to engage the support of the people who most appeal to them. This has been seen most visibly through the high-profile 46664 concerts of the early ‘00’s and the appointment of 46664 ambassadors.  The 46664 ambassadors are world famous and influential musicians, artists and sportsmen and women who are committed to supporting 46664 and the mandate its takes forward to find new hands to lift the burdens.

In addition, 46664 has expanded its focus from being a global HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention campaign into encompassing all areas of Mr Mandela’s humanitarian legacy as well as confronting issues of social injustice.

Makgatho Mandela

Makgatho-Nelson-MandelaIn January of 2005, Nelson Mandella announced that his eldest son, Makgatho Mandela has died of AIDS at the age of 54. Makgatho Mandela had been critically ill for several weeks after being admitted to a Johannesburg hospital late in 2004.

Mr Mandela cancelled several engagements over the holiday period to be close to his ailing eldest son and on Thursday, 6th January 2005 announced the cause of his son’s death, the former president said: “Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it, because [that is] the only way to make it appear like a normal illness.”

Mandela’s candour about his son’s illness undoubtedly helped to erode the stigma and prejudice surrounding HIV/AIDS.  Compared to other world leaders, he has been forthright concerning the need to combat the pandemic.  For these reasons, we appreciate Mandela and admire him. There is, after all, very little international leadership in the fight against HIV.  Mandela’s commitment and openness is therefore commendable.  It contrasts with the dishonesty and neglect of HIV/AIDS by others, in the East, West and Developing worlds.

Legacy

Our friend, and International Patron, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, knows Nelson Mandela better than most people, and it was at Desmond Tutu’s house that Mandela spent his first night after his release from prison in 1990.  Desmond Tutu once said that the world would never have met Mandela the statesman had he not first been Mandela the prisoner.

The Mandela who entered prison in 1962 was an angry young man; a left-wing radical branded a terrorist.  But Desmond Tutu said prison reshaped Mandela’s soul.  It was there he learned forgiveness, which became the hallmark of his presidency and enabled him to heal some of the wounds between South Africa’s two racial solitudes.

Nelson Mandela is proof of humanity’s power to transcend even the widest divides and deepest hatreds.

That is his enduring legacy.

Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, 1918 – 2013 now at rest.

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Information about the effort and influence surrounding HIV/AIDS prominent activists is available here.

Living with HIV: public knowledge must catch up with science

Workers in offices at dusk.

Workers in offices at dusk.

Let’s begin with a few questions about living with HIV. Did you know that people living with HIV can have a normal life span if diagnosed and treated on time? That there is no job which someone can’t do specifically because they have HIV? That treatment can mean that people living with HIV are no longer infectious? Or that men and women living with HIV can become parents of an HIV-free baby?

I hope you did, but the fact that many people do not helps explain why people living with HIV still face stigma and discrimination at work.

There is much to celebrate about the progress made in the last 30 years since the first cases of HIV. The discovery of antiretroviral therapy (ART) in the late 1990s means that people living with HIV can have active and fulfilling lives, a career and a family. But public knowledge and understanding has lagged behind, and this can lead to negative attitudes based on fear and misunderstanding.

Take the example of Simon, who found HIV-related graffiti on his personal things in the office, or Jack who, when he disclosed his status, had to go through a gruelling internal process: “They believed my HIV called into question my fitness to practice and took eight months to investigate…. They told me that it was standard procedure, had nothing to do with my HIV status, but obviously I spoke to colleagues who made health declarations and none of them had the same issues.”

It’s important to stress that many people have a very good experience when they disclose their HIV status at work. But not everyone does. And with last week’s statistics from Public Health England showing there are 100,000 people living with HIV in the UK, employers need to take steps to make their employees HIV aware. In fact, research carried out by Ipsos MORI on behalf of the National Aids Trust (NAT) found that people felt less comfortable with the idea of working with a colleague who had HIV in 2010 than when the survey was previously conducted in 2007.

What can employers do to change this? The recent National HIV Testing week and World Aids Day presents ideal opportunities to raise awareness at work about the reality of living with HIV in the UK in the 21st century. Visit www.HIVaware.org.uk for ideas about how to do this and to access its handy factsheet. The NAT website also has advice for employers about how to support people living with HIV in the workplace and during the recruitment process.

Equality legislation exists to protect people living with HIV at work, should they need it. But it shouldn’t have to come to this. With a little effort, business can help make sure that social progress catches up with scientific advancements, leaving people living with HIV to get on with their jobs.

Via Guardian Sustainable Business (Link)
Author: Eleanor Briggs, assistant director of policy and campaigns at NAT.

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How older people with HIV are facing the future

ageing (1)

In common with many people diagnosed with HIV in the 1980s, Danny West thought he had just months to live.  He became ill, watched friends die and prepared for his own demise at the hands of what was then an unknown virus.

Nearly 30 years on, Danny, who is from London, is one of the longest-surviving people in the world with HIV.  He is part of a growing group of around 19,000 adults aged over 50 receiving care for human immunodeficiency virus in the UK, many of them kept alive thanks to improvements in drug treatments.

Recently, the UN called for the “ageing” of the HIV epidemic to be taken seriously. It wants more services to be made available to this age group, who are now facing old age.  For many, life with HIV has been an emotional and physical rollercoaster.

Danny says he never thought he’d see 50.

“I was given a year at most. I was 24, I’d just got my social work qualification and my foot on the career ladder, and it was all whipped away in one moment.

“There was no treatment then. Over the next two years after my diagnosis, all of my peers died. Everyone went down like cards. My community was gone.”

Danny has never been able to get a mortgage and does not have a pension. Despite working in the public sector and for HIV charities for many years, he has no idea what the future holds.

Many older people with HIV have serious money worries “I haven’t prepared myself psychologically for growing older. My body is ageing faster than a normal person’s. I’ve got arthritis and osteoporosis and I live in constant physical pain.  But the real issue for me is poverty – I don’t know how I will cope financially.”

A recent study of people over 50 living with HIV by the Terence Higgins Trust, found that Danny’s concerns were not unusual.

The 50 Plus report showed that older people with HIV are financially disadvantaged compared with their peers and have serious worries about money, poor health, housing and social care.

Lisa Power, policy director at THT, says this is because many people became ill and had to give up work after their diagnosis. Others sold up, cashed in their pensions, went round the world and waited to die.

HIV Over 50

As “brilliant” anti-retroviral drugs started prolonging lives, she says, “benefits were cut for people who hadn’t made provision for their old age, leaving many of the older HIV group living on a basic state pension“.

“We found huge poverty in our study, particularly among those who thought they had a death sentence. Now we’re coming round to understanding that people with HIV have a normal life expectancy.”

For those diagnosed in recent years, the treatment is straight forward and they can carry on working and raise a family. But for those diagnosed back in the 1980s, the HIV journey has been considerably more traumatic.

Doctors still do not yet fully understand the impact of HIV on the ageing process.  Some health problems in older HIV patients may be related to the early treatments they received, which had significant and sometimes toxic side effects, rather than the virus itself.

But there is generally thought to be an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, heart disease, strokes and cancers in people with HIV.

Dr David Asboe, a consultant in HIV medicine and sexual health at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital and chairman of the British HIV Association, says more than half of the HIV patients he sees are over the age of 50, and some are even in their 80s.

“The earlier they are diagnosed, the earlier we can get them into treatment and that’s important. If there is a delay then that’s when the mortality risk increases.”

The psychological effects of HIV on this group are all too obvious, he says.  “They should be able to work, but there is a real loss of confidence, and it can change the way people consider relationships with their family and wider society.”

Danny has recently been forced to moved into damp, cold social housing in an area where he knows no-one, where he is facing the future with HIV alone.  “I don’t have a picture of what I will be doing in the next 10 years. There are lots of uncertainties and unknowns.

“I live in fear of ill health, poverty and isolation. That’s what I lie in bed thinking and worrying about.”

HIV charities say that healthcare professionals, such as GPs, need to understand more about HIV and home carers should be given more training. Too often, patients don’t have the confidence to disclose their status to their doctor or talk about their problems.  Danny says that previously any health problems he had would have been dealt with by a specialist consultant but changes mean that he now has to see his GP first for everything, which is unhelpful and frustrating.

According to Lisa Power, Policy Director for the Terrence Higgins Trust, there are still too many myths surrounding HIV and more public awareness is needed.

“One group thinks there is a cure for it, another thinks it’s a death sentence. The reality is that people with HIV have a managed, chronic condition – but they also have a life.”

Story courtesy of the BBC News Health

You can download a copy of the national study of ageing from the Terrence Higgins Trust here.

You may also be interested in: Many Older People with HIV Face ‘Age-Related Stigma’ (lass.org.uk)

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