Monthly Archives: September 2016

One Woman’s Triumph Over HIV in Africa (360 Video)

HIV disproportionately affects women in Ghana, but through funding of prevention and treatment methods, this is changing.

In Ghana, AIDS-related illness is the number one cause of death for women ages 15 – 44 years old. Women here are more susceptible to HIV infection, largely because of theirsocioeconomic disadvantage.

Ghanaian society favors the education of men, so many women are often left financially dependent on male partners. Men are in control in sexual relationships as well, and often choose not to use protection during sex. Condoms are typically associated with prostitutionin Ghana, and the fertility of women is very important in Ghanaian culture.

RELATED: Will We Ever Cure HIV?

Sadly, this means that when women do contract HIV, they are often shunned by society and considered worthless by men. Doris Yarnie was one of these women.

Doris discovered she was HIV positive in 1999. At the time, she was also pregnant. “The stigma and discrimination in Ghana [is] strong here. I told the man [my boyfriend] that I’m HIV positive. We born a boy. Later on, the man run away and leave me and the child,” she told Seeker.

The other devastating part of this story is that, without treatment, HIV-positive women canpass the infection to their children in utero. Doris’s son was born HIV-positive and because she couldn’t afford the medication he needed, he died just a few months after he was born.

RELATED: How Africa Is Hacking Its Energy Crisis

For several years, Doris’s health continued to deteriorate, but finally, in 2003 she got the help she needed. With funding from The Global Fund and ONE.org, as well as help from the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital in Accra, she was able to receive anti-retroviral treatment (ART), along with many other HIV patients.

The Global Fund and ONE continue to support this cause in Ghana today. Just last year, the Global Fund signed new grants for the government to receive $248 million in funding to increase the prevention and treatment of HIV, tuberculosis and malaria in the country. An additional 56,736 people are now able to receive treatment for HIV with this funding.

As a result of Ghana’s partnership with the Global Fund, there has been a 43 percent decrease of new HIV infections since 2010.

Thanks to her anti-retroviral medication, Doris has now been healthy for 17 years. “I started taking my medication. I have HIV 17 good years now. I am living well, taking my medicine well, eating well. I’m healthy,” she told Seeker.

RELATED: New $1 Pill Treats HIV/AIDS-Related Infection

Doris is also married now and has two healthy, HIV-negative sons. With the help of the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital, she received ART throughout her pregnancies and it prevented her from transmitting the infection to her boys.

Because she knows first-hand the devastation of bearing a child with HIV, Doris helps other women prevent HIV transmission to their babies during pregnancy. She’s been volunteering at Korle Bu for 12 years now, in a program that gives HIV-positive mothers-to-be ART, as well as medical counseling throughout their pregnancy. They also provide treatment to babies if they are infected with HIV when they’re born.

Doris wants to spread awareness that if you’re infected with HIV, you have options. “I want to tell, if you have HIV there’s hope,” she said. “It’s not that if you get HIV you will die today or tomorrow. I think you take example of me, Doris. Take that example because I am well, I am healthy.”

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Prince Harry makes follow up visit to HIV hospital where Diana helped break HIV stigma

LONDON, ENGLAND - JULY 14: Prince Harry has blood taken by Specialist Psychotherapist Robert Palmer as he takes an HIV test during a visit to Burrell Street Sexual Health Clinic on July 14, 2016 in London, England. Prince Harry was visiting the clinic, run by Guy's and St Thomas NHS Foundation to promote the importance of getting tested for HIV and other STDs. (Photo by Chris Jackson/Getty Images)

Prince Harry takes a HIV test during a visit to Burrell Street Sexual Health Clinic on July 14, 2016.  Harry was visiting the clinic to promote the importance of getting tested for HIV and other STDs. (Photo by Chris Jackson)

Prince Harry has made a private visit to the HIV hospital where his mother helped to break down the stigma surrounding the illness by kissing an Aids patient.

The prince, who celebrates his 32nd birthday today, took a tour of Mildmay hospital in East London on Friday, nine months after paying a public visit to the facility.

Diana, Princess of Wales, was the first member of the Royal Family to have contact with a person suffering from HIV/Aids.

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Diana, Princess of Wales at LASS in November 1991

In the late 1980s, when many still believed the disease could be contracted through casual contact, she sat on the sickbed of a man with Aids and held his hand.

Princess Diana visited LASS in November 1991 and was deeply impressed by our work. Her visit is used to launch the ‘Famous Friends of LASS’ initiative, with over 60 celebrities signing up to offer their voice and support for people living with HIV.

The prince, who left the Army last year after 10 years as an officer, has spoken of how he found it difficult to find the right job after leaving the forces, as he attempts to settle on his future career.  He admitted most jobs he looked at “were not going to work” alongside royal duties and others were “not even on the table”.

In turning 32, Harry is the age his father the Prince of Wales was when he got engaged to his mother.

Fifth in line to the throne Harry is also preparing for a high profile foreign tour in the autumn when he heads to the Caribbean on behalf of his grandmother the Queen

The busy island-hopping trip will take him to Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Grenada, Guyana, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, and St Vincent and the Grenadines.

He is also said to be looking to buy his first home – in Norfolk, close to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and their family. The Sun reported that Harry was interested in a £3.6 million pad with a swimming pool complex called Water Hall.

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Something to #Celebrate: Good news in #HIV #Vaccine Research!

Scientists may have discovered a way to spur the human body to create antibodies capable of blocking the HIV virus. Researchers at institutions around the United States said in five studies published Thursday in the journals Cell, Immunity and Science that they had made an important early step toward developing a vaccine for the disease.

“It’s early work, but we’re trying to rewrite some rules of vaccine development to overcome the extraordinary challenges of HIV,” William Schief, director of vaccine design for the Neutralizing Antibody Center at the Scripps Research Institute’s International AIDs Vaccine Initiative, said. “In a collaborative effort we have reached critical milestones, including the first proof ever that immunization with designer proteins can produce broadly neutralizing antibodies against HIV. The new results strongly support further developing these approaches toward testing in clinical studies.”

There are still some major challenges before clinical studies on humans can begin. To put it simply, HIV is difficult to combat because it attacks the very immune cells sent out to fight it. When the body is successful in fighting it (usually with the help of drugs) the virus is really good at hiding dormant until the next opportunity to stage a comeback. Traditional vaccines haven’t worked to fight HIV but this new research shows that so-called “broadly neutralizing antibodies” are capable of controlling or preventing infection from a range of HIV strains and researchers think these special antibodies are the key to formulating a vaccine.

But for it to be effective the vaccine would have to be much better than nature. Only about 10 to 20 percent of people infected with HIV develop the antibodies on their own and it can take years for them to develop. This new vaccine would have to coax the human immune system to act differently. The researchers were able to spur this kind of reaction in mice whose immune systems mimicked components of the human immune system.

Vaccines aren’t the only way scientists hope to address the HIV problem around the world. Other approaches — including one that resulted in the only known case of HIV being cured, stem cell transplants — are being looked at.

Want more?

Here’s another link on the same story: New vaccination strategies coach immune system to make HIV-neutralizing antibodies

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Remus Lupin’s Werewolf Condition Is A Metaphor For HIV in J.K. Rowling’s New Book

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David Thewlis as Remus Lupin in Harry Potter

Three new Hogwarts e-books were released on Sept. 6, and the short books are filled with fascinating bits of trivia about Hogwarts and our favorite wizards from the Harry Potter series. In one of the biggest revelations from the books, J.K. Rowling writes that Lupin’s werewolf condition is a metaphor for illnesses that carry a stigma.

Story via bustle

In a section of Short Stories From Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship, and Dangerous Hobbies, J.K. Rowling details the life of Remus Lupin, from childhood until his untimely death at the hands of Death Eaters during the Battle of Hogwarts. Lupin — who Rowling calls “one of her favourite characters in the entire Potter series” — was, of course, a werewolf. And according to the author, his lycanthropy is a metaphor for illnesses that exist in the Muggle world.

“Lupin’s condition of lycanthropy was a metaphor for those illnesses that carry a stigma, like HIV and AIDS,” Rowling writes. “All kinds of superstitions seem to surround blood-borne conditions, probably due to taboos surrounding blood itself. The wizarding community is as prone to hysteria and prejudice as the Muggle one, and the character of Lupin gave me a chance to examine those attitudes.”

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Remus Lupin alienated himself from the world because of his condition. He became a werewolf on his fifth birthday, as detailed in the short story about his life found in Heroism, Hardship, and Dangerous Hobbies, as well as on Pottermore. Remus’s father, Lyall Lupin, encountered a werewolf, Fenrir Greyback, during his time working for the Department for Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. He knew Greyback to be a werewolf upon sight, but the other members of the Ministry did not believe him. They teased Lyall, who grew angry and described werewolves as “soulless, evil, deserving nothing but death.” Greyback heard these comments, and when the Ministry released him from custody, he plotted his revenge again Lyall Lupin. The werewolf journeyed to the Lupin’s house, opened Remus’ window and attacked the boy. Because the Greyback bit him in his wolfish form during the full moon, Remus was infected.

Lyall greatly regretted what he had said about werewolves. His son was the same as always — he wasn’t evil or soulless, but clever and kind and smart. Still, Lyall decided to keep his son’s condition a secret. The family moved constantly, upending their lives each time someone caught wind of the situation. “Remus was not allowed to play with other children, in case he let slip the truth of his condition,” Rowling writes. “In consequence, and in spite of his loving parents, he was a very lonely boy.”

His loneliness persisted, until one day a wizard named Albus Dumbledore arrived on his parents’ doorstep and invited him to attend Hogwarts. At Hogwarts, he made true friends — James Potter and Sirius Black — who learned his secret and loved him unconditionally. After their death, he returned to his solitary ways, but he eventually found a home with his family, Tonks and Teddy.

In a separate section of the book, Rowling details the difficulties of living with lycanthropy. She doesn’t discount the challenges of his condition, but she emphasizes that he lived an amazing life despite the difficulties— he had a wife, a son, wonderful friends, and a mission. We know, of course, how his story ends. Though his life was hard and much too short, he lived it brilliantly.

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Left out in the cold: Living with HIV in Russia

‘Talk to Al Jazeera’ traveled Russia to find out what’s behind the fast-growing HIV epidemic there.

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Russia, the largest country on earth, which emerged from the post-Soviet economic and political chaos to reassert itself, is facing a HIV epidemic.

The current rate of HIV is less than one percent of Russia’s population of 143 million. It’s far lower than many other countries, such as South Africa which stands at 12.2 percent, that have been battling HIV epidemics.

Russia has one of the fastest-growing rates of HIV/Aids in the world. At the beginning of this year, the number of registered HIV-positive people surpassed one million. The number of Russians living with HIV has almost doubled in the last five years.

The 2016 UNAIDS Prevention Gap Report pointed to Eastern Europe and Central Asia as “the only region in the world where the HIV epidemic continued to rise rapidly”.

Russian activists say the government’s reluctance to introduce internationally-accepted prevention methods is behind this epidemic. Potential solutions such as sex education, the distribution of condoms to sex workers, methadone therapy and the availability of clean needles to drug addicts are strongly opposed by religious leaders and other conservatives.

It is estimated that over 50 percent of HIV cases in Russia are the result of intravenous drug use. Methadone therapy, however, was made illegal by President Vladimir Putin’s government, despite being classified as “the most promising method of reducing drug dependency” by the World Health Organization.

Talk to Al Jazeera travels to St Petersburg and Moscow to meet people living with HIV and the activists doing all they can to help.

In St Petersburg, we meet Aleksandr Romanov, 47, who discovered that he was HIV-positive six years ago. He grew up in Kazakhstan, then part of the Soviet Union. He says his infection can be traced back to the post-Soviet effects on society – dramatic changes, which included widespread drug use.

Maria Yakovleva, also known as Masha, is part of Svecha, or Candle Foundation, an organisation which provides support, guidance, education, and hope to those living with HIV. She herself is HIV-positive. Changes need to come from the top, she says. 

“There are plenty of things [people need to know], but there is no information [from the government],” Yakovleva says.

Maksim Malyshev works as a social worker with a local NGO in Moscow, which promotes humane drug policies. He worries about the negative impact that the government’s approach has on Russians living with HIV. He can’t understand whether Russia’s leadership simply doesn’t care or is just incompetent.

“In my view, the problem of HIV infection in Russia exists because the people whose job it is to find ways of preventing HIV in Russia are doing a crap job. They are living in some kind of fantasy world of their own, and they have no desire to listen about science-based methods and to the specialists who are working on this problem,” he says.

“Either these people are hypocrites who don’t care about the thousands of people who get infected with HIV and die, or they are simply too stupid to research the HIV prevention information in order to ascertain what is and isn’t working and to resolve this problem.”

The government needs to wake up to a problem that has long been urgent, he believes.

“I think we are already long past the point when something should have been done.”

Annual General Meeting 2016

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LASS Annual General Meeting

Thursday 13th October 2016

  • Doors open 6:30pm
  • Meeting 7pm – 8:00pm

At the Leicester LGBT Centre: 15 Wellington Street, Leicester, LE1 6HH 

This is a public meeting, everyone is welcome! We look forward to seeing you there!

The AGM (Annual General Meeting) is a public meeting where LASS Trustees report back on the management & finances of the organisation for the previous year. Trustees are elected & re-elected for the forthcoming year and members have the opportunity to put questions to the board & vote on decisions and for Trustees.  It’s also a great opportunity to meet our staff and volunteer workforce. This year members are voting on incorporation.

For more information please contact: tom@lass.org.uk or call us on 0116 255 9995

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Pregnant and diagnosed with HIV: the group providing support for mothers

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Thirteen years ago, when Babalwa Mbono was eight months pregnant with her second child, she went to her clinic in Cape Town, South Africa, to have a routine HIV test.

Article via The Guardian
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“I went with confidence because my first child was negative and I was negative then,” she says. When the test came back positive, Mbono couldn’t believe it. “When the counsellor who tested me showed me the results I thought, ‘you’re joking!’ I even asked her if she was sure.”

Mbono left the clinic in a daze and went home to reflect on the news, still in denial. She looked healthy and well, unlike her sister who had died three years previously from Aids-related tuberculosis. “For me, [the result] was something that was not real,” Mbono adds.

Nowadays many people in South Africa know about HIV. The country has the biggest and most high-profile epidemic in the world, with an estimated 7 million people living with the condition, according to UNAids figures. But in 2003 it was not a big topic, and discussions usually revolved around death, says Mbono. The fear of what having HIV might mean for her unborn child started to creep in, and she worried that she would not live long enough to care for a baby who might be infected.

When Mbono found out that she had HIV, South Africa’s government was still deciding whether to make antiretroviral treatment (ARVs) available to all, despite a third of pregnant women testing positive. Today, 48% of infected South African adults are on ARVs.

Back at the clinic, Mbono was linked up to a mentor mother through Johnson & Johnson’s mothers2mothers (M2M) programme. The scheme started in 2001 and has helped 1.4 million HIV-positive mothers in nine sub-Saharan African countries. It currently operates in Kenya, South Africa, Malawi, Lesotho, Uganda, Swaziland and Zambia – seven countries where it has virtually eliminated mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) among its patients, with a 2.1% transmission rate (the UN classifies virtual elimination as less than 5%).

Mbono’s HIV-positive mentor allayed her fears about death and her anger towards her husband, whom she blamed for giving her HIV after he tested positive with a much higher viral load. Through M2M, Mbono learned about taking ARVs to reduce the risk of MTCT in the womb and during breastfeeding, and about how to change her lifestyle to live a long and happy life with her children.

Last year, South Africa was one of six priority countries (all in sub-Saharan Africa) to meet a Global Plan target of reducing MTCT by 90%, with 95% of pregnant women with HIV on ARVs and an 84% reduction in new HIV infections among children.

Over the past year, Cuba, Belarus, Armenia and Thailand – non-priority countries – managed to eliminate MTCT altogether. In South Africa, mother-to-child transmission of HIV has fallen to 3.5%, putting the country within reach of eliminating paediatric infections, although maternal mortality remains high.

The M2M programme “makes the person feel supported”, Mbono says. “It’s a sisterhood, and it makes you feel like you have a family to cry on.” Through counselling, which helps to breaks down the stigma still attached to HIV/Aids in South Africa despite its high prevalence, Mbono also found the courage to confide in her parents and siblings.

And six months ago, she decided to disclose her HIV status to her daughter Anathi, who had just turned 13. “It really felt shocking,” says Anathi, who feared that there would be no one to look after her seven-year-old brother, who was born HIV negative. “I was afraid that she would leave us.”

Mbono reassured her daughter that she had tested negative when she was 18 months old, but Anathi decided to go alone to the clinic and be tested anyway, where she also accessed free counselling from health workers.

“I was so, so scared, but eventually they just sat with me and told me to not freak out and to not think negative things about my mum,” Anathi says. Over the two days she waited for her results, she spent time with her mother and learned more about M2M, even reading her mentoring books.

Mbono’s experience with M2M made her give up unhealthy habits, such as not eating properly and drinking alcohol, and inspired her to become a mentor mother in 2003. “The [programme] gave me the strength to go out there and tell people about HIV and correct the mistakes that people are making and [that] I also made when I didn’t have any information.”

She has gone from counselling others on HIV/Aids and family planning, to training other mentors and seeing them become nurses, social workers and students.

“What makes me most happy [is] when I see a woman who had broken up in pieces when she was told about HIV … and when you see her on the next visit she is much better than the day she left.”

Some 95% of babies in M2M’s South Africa programme test negative for HIV at 18 months, and that also makes Mbono proud. “That makes me feel that I’ve done my job, because 18 months is a long time for the mother to be supported and to be educated. There are so many challenges that they come across, and we are there [for them].”

Anathi set up a counselling group at school to discuss HIV and sex with 18 girls and five teachers, as well as a drama group to perform plays to parents and pupils that discuss staying HIV negative and breaking down stigma.

“Most people don’t talk about it … Young people are not getting enough information about HIV,” she says. Anathi has a friend who she says became a recluse after she found out she is positive, and she knows two girls who have gone off the rails since their mothers recently died of Aids.

But for Anathi, dealing with her mother’s HIV has made them stronger and brought them closer together.

She still worries about how well her mother has slept or eaten when they are apart, even though learning about ARVs has lessened her fears of her mother falling ill and not recovering. “I just worry too much and I call,” she says. “She is like my daughter.”

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