Wednesday, July 27, 2011

In Our Own Backyard

It's been one year since the National HIV/AIDS Strategy (NHAS) was unveiled by President Obama. The strategy addresses the needs of United States citizens with HIV/AIDS and presents steps to fighting the epidemic at the domestic level. HIV/AIDS is sometimes not thought of as a major problem for the United States. It's so often associated with poor third-world nations that it's not given enough attention here at home. The strategy addresses this problem and now after a year of the NHAS in action we can see how the epidemic has been confronted in the US. A review of the strategy showed a significant focus on HIV testing and anti-HIV/AIDS discrimination. The Department of Veterans Affairs increased the number of HIV tests administered to veterans. The Department of Labor held a roundtable discussion over employment discrimination for individuals with HIV and have distributed public education materials on the rights of employees with emphasis on those who are HIV positive. The Department of Health and Human Services is working to begin a program concerning viral hepatitis since up to thirty percent of HIV positive individuals are also infected with hepatitis. If you'd like to read more on the progress by NHAS you can see this report by an employee of the Department of Health and Human Services. The CDC has also blogged about the strategy and it's progress.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Two Promising Studies

I had mentioned in a previous blog that there would be a conference on AIDS in Rome. It was a four day event held by the International AIDS Society. At the conference there was a presentation of the results of a trial regarding the spread of AIDS. The results showed that an HIV positive person taking antiretroviral drugs had a decreased chance of spreading the virus to others by nearly 97%. By forcing the virus to "retreat", ART keeps the virus out of the bloodstream and other bodily fluids through which it is normally transmitted. This news will hopefully be a big push for expanding and creating more ART programs across the world. UNAIDS predicts that around 9 million people who could benefit from ART are not receiving the drugs. The next conference won't be until 2013 in Malaysia. You can visit the conference's website here.

Another study revealed that male circumcision could reduce the risk of HIV infection by up to 60%. Rwanda is taking this study very seriously and has begun to perform non-surgical circumcisions by using a device called PrePex. Since December 2010 Rwanda has circumcised 5000 men and hope to have that number up to 2 million by 2012. This, it is believed, will bring the HIV prevalence rate from 3% to 1.5% in the country. For more on this see this article by the BBC.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The East African Crisis

The UN on Wednesday declared a famine in parts of southern Somalia and predicts a spread of famine to all of southern Somalia within two months unless action is taken immediately. Around $300 million in aid is predicted to be needed in the next several months to keep the famine from spreading. After the announcement, the United States gave an additional $28 million in funding. Hopefully the declaration of a famine and the United States' donation will inspire other countries to help. I think this article really helps explain the level of this catastrophe more than any statistic ever could. If you'd like to find out more ways to help you can look at this article from CNN.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Famine To Be Officially Declared

The UN is set to officially declare a famine in parts of southern Somalia. The drought and food crisis in the Horn of Africa up to this point has been categorized as an "emergency" which is one step behind a famine. There are five levels of food security classification ranging from "generally secure" to "catastrophe/famine". The last official famine to be declared was in Ethiopia in the mid 1980's. A famine is declared once death rates reach 2 per 10,000 per day and malnutrition rates are at or above 30%. The UN has called for $1.6 billion in aid but only half that has been met. The US has been especially reluctant to give aid to Somalia and has cut its funding by 88% due to the presence of insurgents linked to al-Qaeda. The US worries that the aid would fall into the wrong hands and benefit the terrorists. However the insurgents have declared an amnesty for aid deliveries. It will be interesting to see if the declaration of a famine will change any minds in Washington to increase funding. For more on the US position and its implications see this article. And for a visual reference of the drought and food crisis, this interactive map is a great resource. I'll definitely be blogging more about this situation and especially how the declaration of a famine affects aid to the countries so keep checking the blog!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Famine in the Horn of Africa

            You’ve seen the images hundreds of times: a desperate child with his belly protruding held up only by stick-like legs. But how much does that image affect you now? Thanks to the internet and television we are able to know about and see any and all devastation from around the world. But has that weakened the power of those images? Right now in the “horn of Africa” (northern Kenya, Ethiopia, and southern Somalia) there is what is being called the worst drought in nearly 60 years. That, combined with soaring world food prices is shaping up into a massive famine. But this famine was being predicted and warned about since last year. And yet international aid is nowhere near what it should be. One article warns against this “donor fatigue.” Another article questions whether time is an issue. When a natural disaster such as a hurricane or a flood occurs, aid seems to pour in from around the world. But something like a drought and the onset of a famine which occurs more slowly doesn’t seem to get the same urgent attention. This drought in the horn of Africa will have significant consequences for all those who are HIV positive. Even the slightest malnutrition can be devastating for an AIDS patient. I’ll blog more about this as it unfolds. For now here are some more articles if you’re interested:

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

News Updates

I thought I would use this post to update you readers on some news articles I've come across the past week. A lot of them had to do with finding a cure! It seems like the 30th anniversary of the discovery of HIV/AIDS has really ignited a fire in the medical community to focus on finding a cure. A research center in Seattle recently received a $5 million grant and is hoping to start human clinical trials in five years. Their main focus is on the "Berlin patient" incident which I had blogged about earlier. A man from Berlin who was both HIV positive and a leukemia patient received a bone marrow transplant from someone who had the rare delta 32 mutation which is immune to HIV. The patient is now both leukemia and HIV free. The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center is hoping to find a way to replicate this mutation, modify stem cells and find a way to attack the HIV "reservoirs" which make this virus so complicated and difficult to cure. The "reservoirs" refer to the dormancy of the virus. Controlling the virus with ART does not eliminate it and "pockets" of the virus remain in the persons system. Researchers from Johns Hopkins are receiving $32 million in funding to find out more about these reservoirs of HIV. A conference by the International AIDS Society will take place in Rome next week and I hope to find out more about what is discussed and blog about it!

Here are the links to the articles if you'd like to read them in their entirety:

Also--I will be picking up the medicine bottles tomorrow to get started on the Nelson Mandela Day Fundraiser. If you'd like to participate please let me know!!!

Friday, July 8, 2011

Do Something

July 18th is Nelson Mandela Day. It's a day of service where everyone is asked to go out and do something. It doesn't have to be a major event. This year I'd like to ask all of you to join me in collecting change for AFCA. It's simple: you get a medicine/prescription bottle and fill it with coins and then give it back to AFCA. I will be handing out these medicine bottles to various groups and organizations and then collecting them on the 18th to give back to AFCA. If anyone would like to participate in this (and if you know others that would want to get involved) please contact me by commenting on this or writing on our facebook page wall!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A Poll to Ponder and an Event to Plan

I came across this poll conducted recently by the Kaiser Family Foundation and want to share it with all you readers! Here's a link to a page on the website that will allow you to view the complete report of the poll findings: The report is 35 pages and highly interesting. What I found most intriguing was the part about the "declining sense of national urgency" which said fewer Americans name HIV as the top health problem for the US. This result is followed by the findings that people hear less about HIV through social media. Is that because of the declining sense of urgency? Or is it the other way around? Similarly, another one of the top findings showed that not many participants could name a national leader for the fight against HIV/AIDS. Regardless of how you look at it (the lack of urgency caused the lack of attention and focus, or the lack of coverage led to the decrease in urgency), the HIV problem is still huge and needs attention. July 18th is Nelson Mandela Day which is basically a day of service. I'd like to do something with AFCA to really get the word out there about HIV but I need your help! I've got a few ideas of my own but I welcome anyone to share their thoughts and ideas with me and maybe we could really pull something spectacular together! Comment on this with any ideas or questions. Hopefully I'll make some more concrete plans for the day and let everyone know soon!