Monthly Archives: August 2014



Did that grab your attention??  We hope so!

Many of our readers are fluent in ‘HIV speak’, our service users, volunteers, partner agencies and the many people who subscribe to our blog and follow us on twitter.  We don’t need to be told that HIV doesn’t exist because we know it does and have first-hand experience of the condition.

You could argue that within our industry, we have blinkers on, we see people infected and affected by HIV on a daily basis, we support people and we advocate.  We assist when people are victim to prejudice and stigma.  We offer emotional support to people when they need it most and we research the condition.

Yet for some people, it’s hard to believe that HIV is a real condition.  Some people believe that the HIV virus and its associated medical paraphernalia is a fabrication by pharmaceutical companies to create expensive drugs and keep people using them.

Others believe that HIV already has a cure, but this is being kept secret in order to keep the drug companies (i.e. Big Pharma) in business.

HIV/AIDS denialism is the belief, contradicted by conclusive medical and scientific evidence HIV does not cause AIDS.  Some denialists reject the existence of HIV, while others accept that HIV exists but say that it is a harmless passenger virus and not the cause of AIDS.  Insofar as denialists acknowledge AIDS as a real syndrome, they attribute it to some combination of sexual behaviour, recreational drugs, malnutrition, poor sanitation, haemophilia, or the effects of the drugs used to treat HIV infection in the first place.

The scientific consensus is that the evidence showing HIV to be the cause of AIDS is conclusive and that AIDS-denialist claims are pseudoscience based on conspiracy theories, faulty reasoning, cherry picking, and misrepresentation of mainly outdated scientific data.  With the rejection of these arguments by the scientific community, AIDS-denialist material is now targeted at less scientifically sophisticated audiences and spread mainly through the Internet.

Despite its lack of scientific acceptance, HIV/AIDS denialism has had a significant political impact, especially in South Africa under the presidency of Thabo Mbeki.  Scientists and physicians have raised alarm at the human cost of HIV/AIDS denialism, which discourages HIV-positive people from using proven treatments.

What do you think about this? – Fancy a chat with the Skeptics?

“Skeptics in the Pub” are a group of people in Leicester who like getting together in a pub to have a few beers and talk about ‘nonsense’.

Each month, they find a speaker – typically a scientist or prominent sceptic who will speak for around 40 minutes.  The subjects of the talks vary, but they will typically be about a common belief that either cannot be justified by the available evidence, or that can actually be demonstrated to be false by the available evidence.

Examples of these subjects are:

  • Alternative Medicine
  • Psychics & Mediums
  • Religious Beliefs
  • Holocaust Denial
  • Pseudoscience
  • Creationism

The talk is followed by an informal discussion by all who attend and their next talk is about “AIDS Denialism” with Myles Power.

In the early days of the AIDS epidemic many bizarre and dangerous ideas were advanced regarding the origin of the disease and its cause. Since the discovery of the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) these conspiracy theories, which once filled the void left by the lack of information, have all but vanished. Over the past three decades HIV has been the subject of intense scientific research which has resulted in effective treatments, rapid HIV tests, and promising cures. Yet unbelievably there are a small number of people who are sceptical of the “official story”. Although these people are small in numbers they are extremely well funded and can pose a very real threat to public health.

In this talk Myles discusses some examples of the dangerous assertions in the documentary ‘House of Numbers’ and explains how they have led to the death and suffering of hundreds of thousands of people. He will also talk about the failure of the DMCA and how it can be exploited by the proponents of pseudoscience.

The talk is at 7:30pm on Tuesday, 19th August at The Font (52 Gateway Street, Leicester)

So if you fancy the debate, why not pop along it’s sure to be interesting!


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Ebola, polio, HIV: it’s dangerous to mix healthcare and foreign policy

A polio worker brings vaccine drops to children in Peshawar, Pakistan. Using health initiatives as a cover for foreign policy can create suspicion of aid workers. Photograph: Fayaz Aziz/Reuters

A polio worker brings vaccine drops to children in Peshawar, Pakistan. Using health initiatives as a cover for foreign policy can create suspicion of aid workers. Photograph: Fayaz Aziz/Reuters

There are reasons to be fearful of the Ebola crisis gripping parts of west Africa: death; the risk of contagion; overburdened health infrastructure; and concern as neighbouring countries worry about what the WHO now admits is an international health emergency.

These difficulties are exacerbated by the population’s fear not just of the virus itself, but also of the health workers there to help.

While this fear is primarily related to contagion, there are other, more deeply rooted factors at play. Mistrust of outsiders, particularly western health workers, is bound up in the history of Africa and colonial medicine. When much of the continent was under colonial rule, great powers used these outposts of their empires as laboratories, and Africans as their test subjects.

Much work has been done through the years to counter this negative legacy: decentralised health systems, collaborations with local partners, training for African health workers, and partnerships between government, civil society and international donors.

The Ebola outbreak underlines how quickly such progress can unravel in times of crisis, and how the legacy of past mistakes by western powers can resurface to speed up that unravelling, to the detriment of health and security locally and globally. Frequently, particularly in the developing world, past failures re-emerge, complicating efforts at crisis management.

In this context, recent revelations from Cuba – where it was revealed that the US Agency for International Development (USAid) had used HIV prevention work as a smokescreen for fomenting political opposition – should ignite a debate about the necessity of keeping the work of public health agencies, security services and foreign policy separate. Where they converge, trust is squandered. And, as we are witnessing in west Africa, mistrust in times of emergency hampers the necessary work and efforts of foreign aid workers hugely.

The so-called “securitisation” of healthcare is not new. The outbreak of HIV set a precedent as the first health issue to be recognised by the UN security council as an explicit threat to international security. While HIV was a genuine global crisis, there have been recent examples in which foreign policy objectives have been cloaked by apparently innocuous public health activities.

In Pakistan, CIA operatives masqueraded as polio vaccinators to gain greater access to Osama bin Laden’s compound. Though the charade fulfilled its security intent, it later resulted in very damaging reversals in local efforts to eradicate the disease. The motive was disguised and trust was spent. Ultimately, the populace – and healthcare workers – suffered.

The ability of western governments and agencies to act as emergency providers of healthcare, and as honest brokers, will be increasingly reduced unless we agree that the provision of healthcare should be sacrosanct and protected from motives best realised by other means.

The “blue water” between global health and international security continues to narrow, as the UK foreign and commonwealth office encroaches further on the Department for International Development. Meanwhile, the US state department continues to treat USAid as an extension of its operations. Health has traditionally been housed in the international development agencies of western governments. However, as with the role and function of aid and international development, global health is increasingly seen as a part of wider international security strategies for protecting populations from threats such as bioterrorism and infectious diseases such as drug-resistant tuberculosis.

Tactical security objectives – however “successful” – should remain separate from international efforts to improve and protect public health. The Ebola crisis has posed incredible difficulties for health workers in west Africa – imagine how difficult it would be to deal with an outbreak where trust was absent at the outset. We are drifting towards a dangerous convergence of health and security policy, one that makes populations less secure and crisis management immeasurably more difficult.

Story via The Guardian

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Robin Williams 1951-2014


Jonathan Vincent is mourning the death of a friend, a man to whom he delivered a sofa, struck up a friendship and with whom he helped to hand out money to the homeless.

The death of Robin Williams in San Francisco this morning has left Jonathan saddened and reflective about a man who quietly gave his time and his money to  help others.

Jonathan who now lives in Merimbula on the NSW Far South Coast, first met Robin Williams in 1988 when he was working with a removal company to the rich and famous of San Francisco, AKT Trucking. The trucking company was delivering items to Robin Williams’ temporary home while his new house was being built.

Jonathan said: “We were delivering an expensive couch to his house in San Francisco at the Golden Gate and we just seemed to click. He couldn’t get his head around my New Zealand accent. He could do an Australian accent but not New Zealand one. I worked for him a couple of times and then he said that he was involved in some charity work and would I mind giving him a  hand.”

Jonathan agreed to help Robin. “He drove up to my place, picked me up and we drove to an area where there were lines of homeless people outside soup kitchens.”

“We parked and went on foot and Robin started handing money out. Some people recognised him and some thought he was a ghost. He wore a hoodie because he didn’t want to be recgonised.”

It became a regular outing for Jonathan and Robin about once a month over the course of almost four years when Jonathan lived in San Francisco.

Jonathan said that Robin would either leave some money with the soup kitchen organisers or simply hand it out to the homeless in the queue.

“He was a generous, witty and kind person with his time. He was famous on the big and small screen but there was another side to him that I was privileged to be apart of. The idea was hatched as we jogged around the cinder track in Golden Gate Park in 1989, every Wednesday Robin, a few mates and my partner and I would meet on the corner of O’Farrell and Van Ness to begin our rounds of visiting those who were sleeping rough.He was one of the brains behind the portable homeless shelter in a briefcase.

“You have to realise that San Francisco in winter it can get so cold that people have been found dead even on Market Street, the main shopping strip.

“Robin often handed out cash and clothing, but his greatest gift besides his humour was to offer his hand to show that he did really care. Robin quietly supported many charities but one he was most passionate about was visiting San Francisco General and San Diego General hospitals to offer support to those living with HIV/AIDS.”

“I could not tell you what financial contribution he made to these hospital support services but it was significant. He used to say that he was carrying on the tradition started by Gerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead fame who would hand out $100 bills on Christmas Eve to the homeless.”

It was something that Jonathan also became involved in when he was asked to help Gerry Garcia.  “Robin would come along in his trackies and hoodie surprising and delighting those who recognised him.”

There were moments of quiet and introspection though. Jonathan said: “During his quiet moments you could see in his eyes there was a bigger plan. He always wanted to ground himself by helping the common people. He was very introspective sometimes.”

But there was also a dark side with which Robin Williams wrestled.

Jonathan said that he saw that side when Robin wouldn’t speak for a couple of hours or would suddenly race off when they were jogging as if he wanted to outrun the dark mood that had overtaken him.

Jonathan said: “We have lost one of the great funny men on the 20th century. Robin always lived life at full speed, had his issues with addiction but in his eyes you could always see the spark of human kindness that made him more a man than a celebrity. He was a noble person, of great humility, whom I am privileged to say shared a tiny part of his life and humanity with me.”

Robin Williams 1951 – 2014


Story via South Coast Register

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Have your say on sexual health and HIV services


Partners across Leicestershire are asking for views to help shape future plans.

Leicester City Council, Leicestershire County Council and Rutland County Council are currently reviewing the provision of sexual health and HIV prevention services.

As part of this, the public health teams are consulting with residents to inform future services.

An online questionnaire is available – for the public, service users and practitioners. Please visit to view the questionaire.

The questionnaire can also be provided in a paper form by contacting Toni Burnet on 0116 3059238 or

Please email/retweet/send this information on to others who you think may have an interest in this consultation.

The deadline for responses is 31st August 2014.

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Teens Don’t Know HIV Is a Sexually Transmitted Disease

teenage silhouettes

A new study published by the MAC AIDS Fund shows a third of teens don’t know HIV is a sexually transmitted disease. Have the lessons of generations past been lost?

That’s the conclusion reading the results of a new survey put out by the MAC AIDS Fund (PDF). The online survey of about 1,000 teenagers was conducted this year by the communications firm Kelton, and does reveal some worrisome data about their attitudes and level of information about HIV and AIDS. Given its funding source, it makes sense that those facts would be the focus of the report. But taken as a whole, the results indicate that adolescents have a pretty good understanding of what choices are most likely to worsen their health over time.

The most startling and worrisome finding (helpfully highlighted by Vox) is that roughly a third of the respondents did not identify HIV as a sexually transmitted infection (STI). If a true reflection of teenagers’ knowledge of how HIV is spread, that number is troubling indeed. A 2002 study of youth at an urban clinic found that, despite spotty knowledge about STIs as a whole, HIV was identified as such by 91 percent, a larger number than identified any of the others. While a difference in study populations may account for some of that discrepancy between the two surveys, a drop to 67 percent in the span of a dozen years would be a precipitous decline in informedness.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to know how much credence to give those findings. Unlike studies that typically appear in peer-reviewed journals, there is little information provided by Kelton in the report regarding the survey methods. While it’s certainly possible that teenagers have become drastically less informed about HIV than they should be, it’s hard to put aside skepticism about how solid those numbers are without seeing how the survey was worded.

Taking the numbers at face value, the survey finds that 88 percent of teenagers don’t perceive themselves to be at risk for lifetime HIV infection. In contrast, they are concerned about the risks of developing cancer (38 percent), diabetes (33 percent), heart disease (28 percent) and obesity (22 percent). Comparing the prevalence of HIV infection to mortality and obesity rates in the United States, those attitudes are actually pretty sensible. While 50,000 new HIV infections a year are far too many, on balance adolescents are at far more risk of developing those other health problems.

The survey reports that less than a third of respondents rated having unprotected sex as the most risky health behavior they could be engaging in. However, that’s still more than those who rated smoking or drinking (28 percent) or eating unhealthy foods (20 percent) as the riskiest. Without seeing the study’s methods, it’s impossible to know what those numbers really mean. Were respondents only given one choice or asked to rank several? Just because a teenager thinks drinking is the most risky thing she could be doing (which, given the effects of drinking on mortality, isn’t a crazy answer) doesn’t mean she perceives unprotected sex as being risk-free.

For an organization like the MAC AIDS Fund, it makes sense to look at the survey results and respond with alarm. Its focus is on HIV and AIDS, and the report certainly indicates that there is work to be done in communicating to youth about preventing infection. But when viewed as part of a bigger picture, it shows that teenagers have a good idea of what their long-term health risks truly are. Coupled with data showing decreased risk behavior among adolescents as compared to older generations, it’s actually rather encouraging.

What is truly discouraging are the numbers regarding new HIV infections among men who have sex with men (MSM), the group comprising the largest number of new diagnoses by far. Among MSM aged 13-24 years rates of new infections have actually risen over the past decade, while the overall rate of new diagnoses has dropped by 30 percent.  While medications like Truvada can be used to lower the risk of infection for those engaged in high-risk behaviors, that doesn’t mean attention to lowering those risks isn’t important.

Though reading of the report is that most teens have a good idea about the health risks they actually face, it remains important to inform adolescents about their risk of infection with HIV. The survey report contains no information about the respondents’ demographics beyond their ages, so it’s impossible to know how many fall into higher-risk groups. For those who do, giving them the information they need to lower that risk remains just as important as ever.

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A curious observation may lead to a treatment for MS


In science, as in many other walks of life, what is unexpected is often what is most interesting and important. The idea, first mooted in 2011 by Julian Gold of the Prince of Wales Hospital in Sydney, Australia, that HIV infection—or maybe the drug treatment used to fight it—might protect against multiple sclerosis (MS), was certainly unexpected. Now, in a study just published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, Dr Gold has confirmed his suspicion. That is interesting. It may also be important.

Dr Gold’s original motive for investigating the connection between the two diseases was casual observation. He treats people with HIV and has several acquaintances with MS. This led him to realise he had never come across a case of somebody with both. A literature search confirmed the lack of connection. Of the 700,000 published papers on HIV and AIDS, and the 300,000 on MS; not one referred to a patient who had the pair of them. Eventually, he tracked down a single instance—and, tellingly, that individual had started to shrug off the symptoms of MS when he began taking antiretroviral drugs to combat his HIV.

This finding led a Danish team to compare 5,000 HIV-positive people with a control group of 50,000 of their uninfected peers. Unfortunately (for science, if not for the individuals involved) even these large numbers did not yield enough instances of subsequent multiple sclerosis for a statistically significant result to emerge. Dr Gold therefore decided to throw the kitchen sink at the problem. He and his colleagues turned to the English Hospital Episode Statistics, which record all interactions between the people of England and hospitals belonging to their country’s National Health Service.

The team used this database to identify and track everyone in England with HIV who was discharged from hospital between 1999 and 2011, and to provide similar information on multiple sclerosis both for these people and for a group of uninfected controls. In total, Dr Gold and his colleagues found 21,207 HIV-positive individuals in the database and compared them with 5,298,496 controls of similar ages and ethnic backgrounds.

The rate of onset of MS in the controls suggested that about 18 cases should have developed among the HIV-positive patients. In fact, the team found only seven. That result was indeed statistically significant. It suggests those infected and undergoing treatment are 60% less likely to develop MS than their uninfected peers. Moreover, further analysis showed this value leapt to 80% among those who had been infected and treated for more than five years.

Dr Gold’s results do not indicate whether it is the infection or its treatment that is suppressing MS. Either sounds plausible. The immediate cause of MS’s symptoms (which range from clumsiness of movement to depression) is that the sufferer’s immune system is attacking his central nervous system—specifically, the fatty sheaths that insulate the nerve cells in it. HIV meddles with many sorts of immune-system cells and signalling pathways that are associated with multiple sclerosis, so this could be why the disease wanes in those infected with it. On the other hand, though the underlying cause of MS is unknown, many people suspect it is triggered by a yet-to-be-determined virus. If that is true, it may be that the antiviral drugs given to those with HIV are bringing relief by attacking this unknown culprit too.

If this second idea is the right one, it means a treatment for MS looks eminently plausible; it may simply be a question of repurposing some existing drugs. If HIV itself is the protective agent, devising a treatment will be harder. Dr Gold’s discovery would still be a useful pointer, though, to the molecular-biological crack into which a suitable pharmacological crowbar could be inserted. Either way, then, this does look like an important result, derived ultimately from an unexpected observation.

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HIV testing offered at Berkshire library and other public buildings


A sexual health charity is to offer HIV tests at a public library in Berkshire.

Thames Valley Positive Support (TVPS) is offering tests at Bracknell library and at community buildings in Wokingham and Newbury.

The move comes after the success of its Time to Test project, which began offering tests at Tesco Extra in Slough.  The charity said it decided to offer appointments in public places in order to “normalise” HIV testing.

Jessica Harding, deputy chief executive of TVPS, said: “It has been hugely successful. We weren’t actually anticipating the overwhelming demand we had.

“We had people travelling from all over the country to see us.”

‘Huge fear’

The scheme will begin on Tuesday in Bracknell. Tests will be held on Wednesdays at Broadway House, Newbury, and Thursdays at the Salvation Army centre in Wokingham.

Ms Harding said: “It is definitely normalising testing – also there is a huge fear from quite a few people that they will be recognised if they go to a sexual health clinic, so this takes away that barrier.”

The twice weekly testing at Tesco, which originally ran as a six-week trial, has now been extended until December.

Story via BBC



For our Leicester readers, we know you may not wish to travel all that way to get a HIV test, did you know we offer offer a completely free and confidential rapid HIV test (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 after  contact for detecting HIV 1 and 2 antibodies.  We also have a mobile testing van which is often out in communities providing mobile rapid HIV tests. Appointments are not necessary, call us (0116 2559995) we’re here to help.

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