Disputed Rate of HIV in South African SchoolgirlsSouth African Health Minister Aaron Motsoaledi recently released troubling statistics which show that 28 percent of his country’s schoolgirls have HIV, seven times the rate of their male counterparts. In an assembly of the National Council of Provinces, Motsoaledi revealed that these figures “‘destroyed his soul’ and blamed the ‘sugar daddies’ infecting young girls with the virus,” as he advocated government policies to stop such predation.

Motsoaledi points to the drastic difference in HIV rates between boys and girls to illustrate his argument; he argues that if schoolchildren were passing the virus to each other, then rates among boys would not be so much lower. However, it is not clear whether this discrepancy is due to “sugar daddies” as Motsoaledi claims, or to the fact that males are less likely to contract HIV from a positive female than the reverse. Some sources dispute these figures, asserting that they are solely representative of “a small number of schools in the Natal Midlands” and that real figures are closer to 12 percent, down from the previous year’s 14 percent.

South Africa has struggled historically with HIV, and in 2009 began one of the biggest anti-retroviral (ARV) treatment programs in the world. But in the following two years, rates of infection among women aged 30-40 increased. Allegedly, these numbers are due to more people who were infected at a young age moving into older age groups. In order to prevent children from being exposed to one of the worst possible viruses known to humanity, proper education and prevention programs must be implemented in all countries. US foreign aid helps pay for these kinds of initiatives, but there is always more to help with. This might decrease the rate of HIV in South African schoolgirls.

Jake Simon

Sources: Nigerian Tribune, Mail & Guardian
Photo: Sydney Morning Herald

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Africa produces some of the most brilliant artists, athletes, and activists worldwide.  From the media industry to the political stage, these African celebrities are working to improve lives.  The Borgen Project presents the top 10 African celebrities to follow.

1. Patricia Amira, Nigerian, TV Personality

Patricia Amira is a self-proclaimed “optimistic realist” and “closet artist.”  She is the “Oprah” of Africa and hosts one of the continent’s most popular talk shows.  The Patricia Show transcends national boundaries and identities.  The show focuses on achievements across Africa and aims to create social and cultural transformation. The Pan-African talk show is broadcasted in over 45 African countries and averages over 10 million viewers.  She currently serves as the Director of the Festival of African Fashion and Arts.  The festival encourages collaboration among designers and emphasizes the importance of artists.  Amira is also a spokesperson against human trafficking.

2. Nneka, Nigerian, Musician

Nneka is a soul musician of Nigerian-German descent.  Investigative journalism and philosophy inform her music, and she often writes about poverty, war, and and social justice issues.  Nneka emphasizes the importance of understanding balance and harmony.  “It’s important that you recognize yourself as part of the system, too, and that the only way we can make things work is by realizing we are part of the same entity,” Nneka said.

3. Didier Drogba, Ivorian, Soccer Player

Didier Drogba was a leading striker for England’s Chelsea football club and head captain of the Cote D’Ivoire national team.  His performance on the field is impressive, but he made headlines at the 2006 FIFA World Cup for something much greater.  Drogba begged on live television for a cease-fire on the Ivory Coast.  The warring factions subsided within one week.  The Telegraph reporter Alex Hayes noted that Drogba is “the face of his country; the symbol of a new, post-civil war Ivory Coast.”  He also created the Didier Drogba Foundation, a foundation “to provide financial and material support in both health and education to the African people.”  The foundation recently partnered with United Against Malaria (UAM) to help fight malaria.

4. Wole Soyinka, Nigerian, Playwright

Wole Soyinka is a playwright, author, and political activist from Nigeria.  Soyinka entered the political stage after lobbying for a cease-fire during Nigeria’s civil war.  “The greatest threat to freedom is the absence of criticism,” Soyinka said.  This led to his imprisonment for 22 months.  He was released in 1969, and he began publishing again.  Soyinka became the first African to win the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986.  His novel The Interpreters analyzes the experiences of six different African intellectuals.

5. Neill Blomkamp, South African, Movie Director

Neill Blomkamp is a movie director known for his documentary, handheld cinema style.  He blends natural and computer-generated elements effortlessly.  Blomkamp co-wrote and directed District 9.  The film focused on extraterrestrial refugees in a South African slum.  The title derived from real events during the apartheid era at District Six, Cape Town. The film received international fame, and box office sales totaled $200 million.  Time magazine named Blomkamp one of the “100 Most Influential People of 2009.” 

6. Binyavanga Wainaina, Kenyan, Author

Binyavanga Wainaina founded the first literary magazine in East Africa, entitled Kwani?.  The magazine is known as “the most renown literary journal in sub-Saharan Africa.”  Wainaina created the magazine after winning the 2002 Caine Prize for African Writing.  The Caine Prize is an annual literary award for the best original short story by an African writer.  He is known for authoring “How to Write About Africa.”  The short story is known as one of the most satirical pieces ever written about Africa.

 7. Genevieve Nnaji, Nigerian, Actress

Genevieve Nnaji skyrocketed from a middle class upbringing to Nollywood stardom.  She is one of the most popular African celebrities.  Nnaji grew up in Lagos, Nigeria as one of eight children.  Nnaji began her acting career at eight years old on Ripples, a Nigerian soap opera.  She is now one of Africa’s most popular actresses.  At only 32 years old, she has starred in over 80 feature films.  She is one of the best paid actresses in Nollywood—Nigeria’s feature film industry.   “I have always maintained that when they [Hollywood directors and actors] are ready for a young African woman to take part in a project that they will come looking for us,” Nnaji said.

8. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Nigerian, Writer

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is one of Africa’s leading contemporary authors.  She is the author of the novels Purple Hibiscus and Half of a Yellow Sun.  Adichie delivered a popular TED Talk after publishing The Thing around Your Neck, a collection of short stories.  She warns against judging a person or country based on limited information.  “The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story,” Adichie said.  Nigerian history and tragedies inspire her literature.  She is one of the most notable authors of disaporan literature.

9. Rokia Traoré, Malian, Musician

Rokia Traoré became famous in 1997 with the release of her first album Mouneissa.  Malian singer Ali Farka Touré helped Traoré develop her sound, and she later earned “Best African Discovery” from the Radio France Internationale.  Traoré’s father was a Malian Diplomat, and she traveled extensively as a child.  Her travels in Algeria, Saudi Arabia, France, and Belgium influenced her music.  Traoré joined the 30 Songs/30 Days campaign in September 2012.  The campaign supported the Half the Sky movement, based on the book by the same name.  The movement focuses on sex trafficking, sexual violence, and female education.

10. Alek Wek, Sudanese, Supermodel

Alex Wek is a supermodel, fashion designer, and political activist.  Wek fled Sudan at the age of 14 to escape the civil war. She moved to London, England with her parents and eight siblings and was later discovered at an outdoor market.  Ford Models, one of the world’s top modeling agencies, signed her in 1996.  By 1997, she was the first African model to appear on the cover of Elle magazine.  Wek continues to model but is also a member of the U.S. Committee for Refugees’ Advisory Council.  Wek works with World Vision to combat AIDS.  She is also an ambassador for Doctors Without Borders in Sudan.  She belongs to the Dinka ethnic group

– Whitney M. Wyszynski

Source: Forbes

Last Sunday at the 2013 Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections in Atlanta, doctors reported that an infant in Mississippi has been cured of HIV. The baby’s mother was HIV positive, and in hopes of controlling the virus, the baby was treated with high doses of three antiretroviral drugs within 30 hours of birth. Treatment was ongoing for 18 months. Two years later, there is no trace of HIV in the child’s blood. Early intervention with antiretroviral drugs seems to be the key to this “miracle cure.”

In the world of medicine, this is groundbreaking as this child is the first to be “functionally cured” of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. Emphasis is being placed on the timing of intervention rather than the particular drug or number of drugs used. Dr. Hannah Gay, a pediatric HIV specialist at the University of Mississippi who treated the infant and mother, stated that the current hypothesis is that through “early aggressive therapy” they were able to prevent reservoirs or “hiding places” from being seeded with the virus. Doctors will continue to follow the unidentified baby girl’s progress but as of now, she is off of treatments and assessed by doctors as “perfectly healthy.”

In the US, 100 to 200 babies are born infected with HIV every year. Around the world, nearly one thousand babies are born infected with HIV or more than 300,000 a year. As of last Sunday, one has been cured. This is just the start of a lot of work and research that has to be done but without a doubt these findings give great hope in the possibility of a cure for HIV.

– Rafael Panlilio
Source: CNNReuters, You Tube

What Would an HIV Cure Mean for the World's Poor?On March 3rd, doctors announced that they had “functionally cured” a Mississippi child born with HIV of the virus. A functional cure means that a patient has tested negative for the virus. In this case, the child no longer needs HIV medication and is very unlikely to pass the virus on to others.

Doctors have already achieved a 98-99% success rate in the US in preventing the passage of HIV from pregnant mothers to their newborn children. This is accomplished through aggressive retroviral drug treatment during pregnancy and continued treatment of the newborn after birth.

In the United States, about 0.3% of the population, or 1.1 million people, is living with HIV/AIDS. In sub-Saharan Africa, nearly 5% of the population is living with HIV/AIDS. That’s 22.5 million people: the combined population of Iowa and New York states.

In sub-Saharan Africa, the virus is particularly widespread among women and children. There, 387,500 children under the age of 14 were receiving anti-HIV drug treatment in 2010. The number of children who needed treatment but weren’t receiving it was estimated to be about 2 million. While African HIV infection rates have been dropping over the last decade as a result of better health care and education, the virus remains an epidemic.

What would an HIV cure mean for the world’s poor? Being able to cure babies and children of the virus, as well as stopping the spread of HIV from mothers to children, would eliminate the majority of new cases in sub-Saharan Africa. Curing newborns of HIV worldwide would mean a significant decrease in infant and child mortality, and healthier and easier lives for families. It would also eliminate the need for a lifetime of costly anti-viral drugs for those children cured.

– Kat Henrichs

Sources: Guardian, Avert, CDC
Photo:

New Pope, New Take on Contraceptives?The beginning of this March is an important time for the Catholic Church, as Pope Benedict XVI resigns from the papacy. With the seat of St. Peter empty, what global issues will the new Pope face?

Catholics and non-Catholics alike realize that the Pope and his decisions have an influence in many areas throughout the world. The next Pope, whoever that will be, is going to inherit the Church in a time of crisis. While there is a myriad of problems to be dealt with within the Church, one issue related to international poverty will be at the forefront: the use of birth control.

Pope Benedict famously stirred up no small bit of controversy in the international aid community back in 2009 when he claimed that the use of condoms does nothing to prevent the spread of HIV and that the availability of condoms actually makes the problem worse. Around the same time, the Pope offered a rare example in which the use of condoms would be acceptable in the case of a male prostitute using one. Such comments brought about different feelings about where the Church would be going with the issue; would it stay conservative or consider altering its’ stance on condoms?

The next Pope will have an opportunity to make his own statements about birth-control and perhaps his stance may be slightly more accepting than his predecessors. It would be irrational to expect the Catholic Church to reverse its position on the issue of birth control, but it is also important to remember the relationship between overpopulation and poverty. Even the smallest bit of change could make a difference for millions and hopefully, it will start to come about with the new Pope.

– Kevin Sullivan

Source: The Guardian

Prince Harry on African Charity Tour

Following in the footsteps of his mother, Princess Diana, Prince Harry has never been a stranger to charity trips to Africa. After a four and a half month tour of duty in Afghanistan, Prince Harry began his visit to South Africa and Lesotho on Wednesday. His itinerary includes dinners, fundraisers, site visits, and catching up with his charity Sentebale in Lesotho.

One of his stops early yesterday was at the Kanaelo Center for the Deaf in Maseru, the capital of Lesotho. The school is one of only two schools for the deaf. Here, the Prince spent time in the classrooms learning sign language from the children and also got a chance to express his inner domestic-side in the school’s kitchen.

The Kanaelo Center is one of the many projects that is funded by Sentebale. Meaning ‘forget me not’ in the country’s native language Sesotho, the charity was founded in 2006 by Prince Harry and Prince Seeiso of Lesotho. It focuses on health and educational assistance to the country’s half a million orphans and children who suffer from HIV/AIDS, physical and mental disabilities, and other ailments.

His next appearance was at the St. Bernadette’s Resource Center which works with blind children. Here, he simply spent time with the children, interacting with them, and getting to know the projects of his charity more directly.

The main purpose of the trip was the Sentebale Gala Dinner which took place Wednesday night in Johannesburg, South Africa. A vital aspect of running a big charity are these sometimes extravagant dinners and events which in reality are what help bring in interested people, and more importantly their wallets, to donate to the cause. All the money from this event will go specifically towards building a new home and education center, The Mamohato Center. The center will provide the services that the Mamohato Program did but in a more permanent setting. The Programme emphasized educating children with HIV/AIDS on not only the basics of health but also about the disease they are living with in order to spread awareness throughout their communities. The center will also provide psychological services as well as mentoring.

In the late 1990s before her death, Princess Diana was constantly in the news for her humanitarian work and immersion with impoverished communities. Aside from the celebrity aura of the royal family, the fact is that their money and status also come with an incredible amount of power. Truthfully, they create more excitement than a Hollywood starlet’s newest foreign adoption. Being third in line for the throne, it’s important for Harry to constantly remind himself of the work outside of the United Kingdom and modern work that needs to be done to increase the well being of children living in poverty; work that he has not only the power but the passion, to do.

– Deena Dulgerian

Sources: Huffington Post,E! Online,ET

C. Everett Koop Passes Away at 96

C. Everett Koop, the former Surgeon General of the United States, died yesterday at the age of 96. He is perhaps the most recognizable figure to hold that position because of his impact in raising awareness about the then-emerging disease of AIDS. He served under Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H. Bush for seven years, while the AIDS/HIV epidemic became a national and international epidemic.

Concerned with healthcare all over the world, he wrote the influential book “Critical Issues In Global Health”, in 2002. It became required reading for anyone wanting to understand the complex needs of providing adequate healthcare in the 21st century, and beyond. He put together experts and professionals from around the world, from different backgrounds, to compile a comprehensive look at the challenges and tools needed for improving people’s health.

Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of the WHO, wrote the first chapter entitled “The Future of the World’s Health.” He states that “our first priority must be to decrease and eliminate the debilitating excess burden of disease among the poor.” Getting people out of poverty is what will lead to the greatest improvements, a critical component being the creation and distribution of low-cost/or free medications.

The book has great charts and statistics to show where progress has happened, and where efficiency can be improved. In China, it is reported that the average life expectancy had increased from 35 years old in 1949 to 70 years in 2002, infant mortality declined from 31.4 per 1000 live births to 20/1000, and maternal mortality reduced from 1500 per 100,000 live births – to 61.9/1000.

In the forward by Jimmy Carter, he says, “the miracles of science could and should be shared equally in the world,” emphasizing rising inequality and its role in the prevalence of the disease.

Though C. Everett Koop had no legal authority to set government policy, Koop described himself as “the health conscience of the country. My only influence is through moral suasion.” He improved the health of millions worldwide.

– Mary Purcell

Source: The Annals, USnews.nbcnews.com

US AIDS Efforts Have Surpassed GoalsOn the 10th anniversary of the American President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), a new study released by a panel at the Institute of Medicine (IOM) shows that PEPFAR efforts have surpassed goals which were initially proposed to provide medical care for those who are HIV positive and suffer from AIDS. The PEPFAR program also includes prevention measures in communities affected by the disease.

Initiated in 2003 under President George W. Bush, PEPFAR’s initial goal was to provide medical care for 12 million people and to provide 6 million people with HIV antiretroviral treatments. Today, around 5 million people have received the medication through PEPFAR, and the program is providing care to over 15 million people – well surpassing the original goal. At least 4.5 million of those receiving support are children. The care of children was a high priority when the program was initiated, as many children have become orphans because of the AIDS epidemic. The report states that PEPFAR has “provided unprecedented support” for these children since it began.

A decade ago, PEPFAR began with $15 billion in funding from the U.S. government – the largest project in history aimed at tackling a single health issue. Today, funds dedicated to AIDS relief amount to over $37 billion, with an additional $7 billion donated to help eradicate tuberculosis and malaria.

The IOM report went on to praise the U.S. for its role in drastically scaling back the number of people worldwide affected by the disease. The Obama Administration has also vowed to continue support for AIDS relief, announcing plans for an “AIDS-free generation” by putting a heavy emphasis on prevention. The study also takes the stance that prevention is a crucial component to continue exceeding goals and that “long-term success in keeping disease at bay will depend on countries making a transition,” where the mindset of healthcare systems shifts from that of an aid recipient to a medical institution that cultivates proper treatment and prevention methods.

Christina Kindlon

Source: All Africa

Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General
Kofi Annan was the seventh Secretary-General of the United Nations preceding the current Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon. In a recent town hall-style discussion at Yale University, reports Jim Shelton of the New Haven Register, the former U.N. official reflected on his tenure, during which he received a Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 for his work in advocating on the issue of HIV/AIDS and other global issues. Annan also expressed his support for reforming the U.N.

He stressed that reform was necessary both in expanding the membership of the U.N Security Council, which has five permanent and ten non-permanent members, and addressing the issue of global poverty, which is one of the Millennium Development Goals due to be re-examined in 2015.

Annan’s most recent and well-known diplomacy role has been as the U.N.’s envoy to the Arab League during the beginning of the Syrian crisis in 2012. Annan’s frustration with the inaction of the U.N. in addressing the issue famously led him not to renew his contract for the position of envoy in August 2012.

Annan said the U.S. and Russia must lead the way in shaping international consensus on a solution in Syria. Otherwise, a “chaotic collapse” there may lead to ethnic cleansing and ever greater global tension,” writes Shelton.

Kofi Annan’s urging towards effective diplomatic action is a rallying cry for nations to help assuage the mounting violence in Syria. With all the respect garnered through his long history of international diplomacy, we can only hope that Annan’s colleagues in the U.N. heed his advice.

– Nina Narang

Sources: New Haven Register, United Nations, BBC
Photo: The Elders

Broadband – A Basic Human RightMost technology is limited in Mfangano, a fishing community off the Kenyan shore of Lake Victoria. The first time a car drove around the entire island was in 2007. Islanders only receive spotty coverage from cell providers due to the difficulties of building cell towers on Mfangano. Providers face difficulty constructing links from the mainland, and islands perceive key construction platforms as sacred.

Worst of all is the lack of internet access.

Chas Salmen, the director of the Organic Health Response (OHR), a small Kenyan NGO that provides HIV/AIDS-related services, noted the Islanders’ repeated desire for internet at community meetings. OHR started the meetings as a means to educate the public about HIV/AIDS and encouraged feedback in order to understand the lives of the islanders.

One of OHR’s primary difficulties was getting a substantial proportion of the community to attend the meetings. This was solved when OHR built the Ekialo Kiona Center (EK). The EK has a computer center, library and training facility. “Ekialo Kiona” means “Whole World” in the Suba language; the name refers to the OHR’s policy of allowing anyone access to the EK and the internet in exchange for maintaining a schedule of HIV tests every 6 months.

Participation in OHR’s programs has grown rapidly with the internet incentive. Now over 2,000 participants, or 10 percent of the population, use the EK and attend the regular meetings.

“The timing of the project was just perfect,” said Salmen. “It went live just before schools closed for a one-month break and we had 250 secondary students enroll right away. 75 percent of our new enrollment has been young people, under 25. They engage with us in a way that wasn’t possible before.”

The OHR also set up a network-connected radio transmitter to broadcast, which has greatly increased the amount of the population on the receiving end of their educational messages.

Salmen said, “When we broadcast we get SMS messages from a huge area, including Kisumu, 90km away. EK Radio fan pages have started appearing on Facebook without any prompting on our side. It’s a total game changer to start those conversations and have everyone listening at once.”

Broadband connectivity is not a high priority for those aiding developing communities. But, as Cisco’s Senior Vice President of Corporate Affairs Tae Yoo noted, it creates jobs, higher productivity and ultimately enables economic and social development.

The United Nations now classifies broadband as a basic human right because it helps developing communities advance economically and socially. Yet, UNESCO estimates that 90 percent of communities in developing areas are without access to broadband.

Inveneo has launched the Broadband for Good Initiative (BB4G) to speed up access to broadband throughout the developing world. BB4BG uses low-cost technologies to deliver broadband into urban and rural areas. BB4G currently provides broadband access to 20 percent of rural Haiti, and certain areas of Micronesia, Kenya, Uganda and the West Bank of Palestine.

“Mfangano is a great pilot for building sustainable broadband networks,” said Eric Blantz, senior program director for Inveneo. “The challenges we’ve seen here are not unique, but the solutions we’re finding are innovative and replicable across the developing world.”

– Kasey Beduhn

Source: The Huffington Post

Photo: Organic Health Response