AIDS Care Watch

Monday, April 28, 2008

Indians more prone to HIV-AIDS than others

By, The Times of India, Ashish Sinha,April 26, 2008

The biggest ever gene mapping exercise of the "people of India" has shown that Indians are more vulnerable to HIV-AIDS than many other population groups around the world. This is because a protective gene marker against HIV-1 is virtually absent in India, making the population more at risk.

The study also shows that the risk increases as one moves from north to south India. It also says the Indian gene pool is quite varied and the term or description "Indian" is hardly homogenous. It includes several variations across population groups spread across the country's land mass.

On the vulnerability to HIV-AIDS, the study says, "There is a high-to-low gradient from north to south (India). These results are consistent with the observations by Majumder and Dey in 2001, and the antenatal clinical HIV prevalence survey (2005) that reports a high frequency of HIV in south Indian populations."

The study, released by science and technology minister Kapil Sibal on Friday, was carried out by more than 150 scientists and researchers from six CSIR laboratories. A part of the genetic landscaping were the Centre for Genomic Applications (Delhi) and a host of anthropologists.

Gene study largest since Green Revolution

Perhaps the largest scientific endeavour since ICAR's Green Revolution effort of 1970s, the mapping covered four main linguistic families of Indians — Austro-Asiatic, Tibeto-Burman, Indo-European and Dravidian. It also encompassed the mostly endogamous (marrying within the larger social group) Indian population defined by distinct religious communities, hierarchical castes and subcastes, and isolated tribal groups.

The study, a part of the Indian Genome variation initiative, has generated information on over 4,000 genetic markers from more than 1,000 biomedically important and pharmacogenetically relevant genes in reference groups. The study reveals a high degree of genetic differentiation among Indian ethnic groups and suggests that "pooling" of endogamous populations without regard to "ethno-linguistic factors" will result in false inferences.

"We note that the people of India are referred as 'Indian' in many population genetic studies. The implication of such usage is that the Indian population is genetically homogeneous, which, as the results of our study indicate, is evidently not true. However, we have also shown it is possible to identify large clusters of ethnic groups that have substantial genetic homogeneity," it says.

The mapping is expected to help in constructing "specific drug response/disease predisposition maps" to aid policy decision making for drug dosage interventions and disease risk management, especially for complex and infectious diseases.


Thai HIV/AIDS programs overlook children, UNICEF Official Says

By, IRIN PlusNews, April 23, 2008

Thailand's HIV/AIDS prevention and support programs have overlooked the needs of children living with or affected by the virus, Scott Barber, chief of UNICEF's HIV Section in the country's capital of Bangkok, said recently, IRIN News reports.

According to a recent UNICEF report, it is estimated that about 50,000 children under age 15 in East Asia and the Pacific are affected by HIV/AIDS. About 10,000 HIV-positive children in the region were receiving antiretroviral drugs in 2006, a 40% increase from 2005. "Just providing (antiretroviral drugs) is not enough," Barber said, adding that antiretrovirals are "only effective if children take them, and this depends on social support, and the reduction of stigma and discrimination."

Thailand in 2007 endorsed a call made by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2006 to put children at the center of HIV/AIDS strategies in the region, IRIN News reports. Several countries in the region have since implemented national strategies aimed at reducing mother-to-child HIV transmission and addressing the virus among children.

MTCT in Thailand has decreased in recent years, with 80% of HIV-positive pregnant women in the country receiving antiretrovirals. Fiji and Malaysia also have had success in reducing MTCT, according to UNICEF. However, in some developing countries in the region, only 30% of pregnant HIV-positive women receive treatment, IRIN News reports.

Chutima Salsaengjan -- a social worker with the Thai nongovernmental organization We Understand Group, which organizes art and drama programs for children living with HIV/AIDS -- said it is "important to treat [HIV] but also important to help children cope" with the virus. "For children, small things can make a big difference," she said (IRIN News, 4/23).

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Thailand: Helping HIV/AIDS children

By, IRIN plusNews, April 23, 2008

As a child, Poel wondered why she fell sick so often, why she was always breaking out in lesions, why she constantly felt tired. The answer seems obvious now - her parents died of HIV/AIDS when she was very young. But the aunt who looked after her never sent her for tests and her status was only discovered when she was admitted to hospital with tuberculosis at 11.

"They gave me medicine," Poel, who lives in Khon Kaen Province in northeast Thailand, and is now 18, told IRIN. "But the pills were very big and hard to swallow. They were made for adults. They should think about the children."

Thailand has long been held up as a shining example of how good policies can help stem the spread of HIV. However, it has overlooked the special needs of children such as Poel.

"Just providing ARVs [antiretroviral drugs] is not enough," says Scott Barber, chief of the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) HIV section in Bangkok. "They are only effective if children take them and this depends on social support and the reduction of stigma and discrimination.”

In a recent report, UNICEF estimates that across East Asia and the Pacific, some 50,000 children under the age of 15 are affected by HIV or AIDS. About 10,000 received ARVs in 2006 - a 40 percent jump on 2005.

In addition, more countries have national programmes to prevent mothers from passing HIV to their babies and more emphasis is being placed on helping infected children.

In Thailand, parent-to-child transmissions have dropped considerably in recent years, with 80 percent of expectant women receiving ARVs. UNICEF said Fiji and Malaysia have reported similar numbers. But in other developing Asia Pacific nations, fewer than 30 percent of expectant mothers are treated.

Thailand's success is attributed to an aggressive top-down approach. The campaign against HIV/AIDS was instituted more than two decades ago and included a massive public information exercise, efforts to enforce the use of condoms in all commercial sex establishments and, in 2003, a commitment by the government to provide universal ARVs. At least 600,000 people are infected with HIV or AIDS and at least one Thai child is born with the virus every day.

In 2007, Thailand joined its ASEAN neighbours in endorsing a call, made at the 2006 Hanoi Regional Consultation on Children and AIDS, to put children at the centre of the fight against HIV.

Small steps

"For children, small things can make a big difference," says Chutima Salsaengjan, a social worker from the We Understand Group, a Thai NGO that runs art and drama projects for children living with HIV. "It's important to treat the illness, but also important to help the children cope."

For Poel, being diagnosed HIV-positive brought shame and loneliness. "When the people in my village found out, they started to ostracise me," she told IRIN.

Poel said she spent most of her early teens locked up in her bedroom, too afraid to face the world. She hated taking her medicine and going for regular blood tests. It was only when she began participating in art and drama workshops organised by the We Understand Group that her life started turning around. She said she was encouraged to express herself, share her fears and seek support from other children affected by HIV.

The experience inspired her to go back to school and more recently she started mentoring younger members of the art and drama workshops and other HIV-infected youth.

"I like to help people,' she says, admitting that in the process she is also helping herself.


Monday, April 14, 2008

Fading Smiles: One Third of Thailand’s Gays Threatened by HIV

By, UK Gay News, April 13, 2008

Kingdom’s HIV infection rate among gay,bi men has risen to 30.7% in 2007

The Thai Ministry of Public Health has released figures detailing the dramatic rise of HIV infection among MSM (men who have sex with men). Estimated at 28% in 2005, that number has increased to just under 31% in 2007.

This continuing spike in infection rates, mentioned only briefly in the Thai Press, has seemingly gone unnoticed; just as Thailand’s sexual minority including gay and MSM communities has languished from seriously low levels of official funding and only limited research into AIDS prevention among them.

With a vibrant GLBT sub-culture, “The Land of Smiles” has annual pride parade celebrations in four major cities; with Phuket Island’s tourist-pleasing festival marking its first decade.

Achieved with minimal official support, these self-produced public events are often focused on AIDS/HIV awareness (Pattaya’s annual parade coincides with World AIDS Day).

Without support from the government, Thai gays have been left to sink or swim on their own; and they’re sinking.

Despite Thailand’s famous reputation for tolerance, its homosexuals and “third genders” are never-the-less subject to public bias and official discrimination: in 2004 a Culture Ministry Deputy declared war on open gays for being abnormal influences in the media; in 2007 a member of the assembly drafting

Thailand’s new constitution objected to including protections for GLBT because such people would “make Thai society weak”.

More damaging, a long term Moral Order campaign, begun under the former Taksin administration, saw officials raiding legal businesses and threatening arrests and closures when condoms were discovered on premises.

Condoms, the most effective weapon that gay venues had in a public health crisis, vanished as they were deemed instant proof of wrongdoing.

Two decades ago, when homosexuals made up only 1% of Thailand’s run-away HIV infections, gays began grass roots education to prevent the kind of scourge that had wracked communities in Europe and the US.

Groups like The White Line Dance Troupe toured straight brothels and schools, in addition to gay bars and dance clubs, to spread the safer sex message to the larger society.

Despite being pioneers in Aids/HIV prevention and continuing to highlight prevention messages in its public events, the gay community received little meaningful assistance or attention in Thailand’s recent prevention efforts.

Since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Collaboration (TUC) showed HIV prevalence of 17.3% among MSM in Bangkok in 2003, that figure has nearly doubled in just four years. Last month the Commission on AIDS in Asia reported that MSM infection rates in Asia as a whole are estimated to more than double in the next decade.

To its credit, the Ministry of Public Health has significantly added its support to developing national strategies, with the community, for dealing with HIV among MSM.

What is missing, at least since the 1997 economic crisis, is the political will at the highest levels of government.

Unless prevention efforts change dramatically – and UNAIDS suggests that 80% of a sub-population at high risk must be reached directly with HIV prevention efforts including condom and lubricant distribution, to achieve at least a 60% change in risk behaviours – HIV disease seems set to consume more smiles in Thailand’s future.


Tuesday, April 08, 2008

More Than 2M Children Worldwide Living With HIV/AIDS, Report Says

By, Kaiser Network, April 7, 2008

More than two million children worldwide were living with HIV/AIDS in 2007, according to a joint report released Thursday by UNICEF, UNAIDS and the World Health Organization, Reuters reports (Worsnip, Reuters, 4/3).

According to the report -- titled "Children and AIDS" -- most children living with HIV/AIDS acquired the virus through mother-to-child transmission. The report also found that 290,000 children under age 15 died last year of AIDS-related causes and that 12.1 million children in sub-Saharan Africa lost one or both parents to HIV/AIDS (AFP/France 24, 4/3). In addition, the report found that young people ages 15 to 24 account for 40% of new HIV cases among people older than 15 (Deen, IPS/, 4/4).

The report highlighted four strategic areas of focus to address HIV/AIDS among children: prevention of MTCT; pediatric treatment of HIV; prevention among adolescents and young people; and protecting and supporting children affected by the virus. According to the report, 21 countries -- including Botswana, Brazil, Rwanda, South Africa and Thailand -- are on track to meet UNICEF's goal of providing MTCT prevention services to 80% of people in need by 2010, up from 11 in 2005. In addition, although the number of HIV-positive pregnant women receiving antiretrovirals to prevent MTCT increased by 60% from 2005 to 2006, only 23% of women in need receive such services. The number of HIV-positive children in low- and middle-income countries with access to antiretrovirals also increased by 70% from 75,000 in 2005 to 127,000 in 2006, the report said (AFP/France 24, 4/3).

However, the report added that "with millions of children and women not being reached, these results are in no way satisfactory." Treatment levels, risk-reduction programs and government services to address HIV/AIDS are insufficient and reach a low percentage of people in need, according to the report (Reuters, 4/3). The reported noted that "steady progress" has been made in addressing the virus in Eastern and Southern Africa but added that the "priority is now to implement new initiatives and scale up those that have already been tested and proven effective." HIV/AIDS has "starkly altered the experience of growing up" for millions of children worldwide, who have experienced "deepening poverty, school dropout and discrimination as a result of the epidemic," the report added.

The report recommended four strategies to fight HIV/AIDS among children:

Strengthening families and communities;

Reinforcing health, education and welfare systems to help support HIV/AIDS-affected children;

Integrating prevention of MTCT programs in maternal, infant and child health programs; and

Consolidating data to keep track of advances and shortfalls (IPS/, 4/4).

In addition, the report welcomed an increase in donor funds to fight HIV/AIDS. According to the report, about $10 billion in HIV/AIDS funding was available in 2007, compared with $6.1 billion in 2006 (AFP/France 24, 4/3).
"Today's children and young people have never known a world free of AIDS," UNICEF Executive Director Ann Veneman said, adding, "Children must be at the heart of the global AIDS agenda." Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, said "Much more needs to be done to prevent HIV amongst young people and adolescents if we are to make a major change in the direction of the epidemic" (IPS/, 4/4). Kevin DeCock, director of HIV/AIDS programs at WHO, added that "health systems and their most precious component, the health care work force, must be strengthened" to address HIV/AIDS in children (AFP/France 24, 4/3).


Monday, April 07, 2008

Ethiopia Launches HIV/AIDS Workplace Policy

By, Kaiser Networks, April 4, 2008

Ethiopia recently launched a policy that provides a framework for addressing HIV/AIDS in the workplace, the Daily Monitor/ reports. According to the Monitor/, the policy was developed during a three-year project, called "HIV and AIDS Workplace Policy Project for NGOs in Ethiopia," which was hosted by the Jerusalem Children and Community Development under the slogan Stop AIDS Now!, or SAN!

The campaign emphasizes building the capacities of more than 35 local and international nongovernmental organizations in the country to create, implement and manage the impact of HIV/AIDS workplace policies. The campaign also addresses the high rate of new HIV cases projected for 2008, projections that the majority of cases will occur among people ages 15 to 45 and the virus' effect on Ethiopia's working population. Speaking at the launch of the project on Saturday, Dereje Alemayehu, steering committee member of SAN! Ethiopia, said the campaign was designed to address the realization by organizations in the country that a response to HIV/AIDS is needed in the workplace. He added that the project will address some of the major difficulties that organizations in Ethiopia face by providing support to implement the policies. The project also aims to increase awareness and knowledge of how to effectively address the disease in the workplace by using various tools and techniques, Alemayehu said. According to the Monitor/, SAN! has implemented similar workplace policies in India and Uganda (Tesfaye, Daily Monitor/, 4/2).

Infant HIV infections down 20% since 2001

By, Bill Varner, Bloomberg News, April 5, 2008

The number of babies born with the virus that causes AIDS or infected by breast milk decreased by 20 percent in six years, according to a United Nations report that credited treatment programs.

New infections dropped to 490,000 in 2007 from about 540,000, the World Health Organization and U.N. Children's Fund said. AIDS deaths among children younger than 15 declined to 290,000 from just more than 300,000, the agencies said.

"Important gains have been made in addressing treatment needs for children and in preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV," Peter Piot, executive director of UNAIDS, which coordinates relief efforts, said in a statement.

The U.N. agencies said the number of women in African, Asian and Latin American nations receiving antiretroviral drugs has more than doubled, to about 25 percent.

The medicines reduce the mother's risk of transmitting the virus. Gains were reported in Benin, Botswana, Brazil, Namibia, Rwanda, South Africa and Thailand.

Achieving an "AIDS-free generation is possible," the report said, citing the overall increase in funding for AIDS treatment to $10 billion last year from $6.1 billion in 2004.

The U.N. report also said the number of HIV-positive children in low- and middle-income countries receiving antiretrovirals increased 70 percent since 2005, to 127,000 from 75,000.


Thursday, April 03, 2008

Thailand joins gay blood ban

By, Adam Lake, Pink News, April 2, 2008

The Thai Red Cross Society has decided to reject blood donations from homosexual men in a move which has met with strong opposition from human rights organisations.

It said it had large amounts of unused blood that had tested HIV-positive.

Most of the infected blood was reportedly from men who were having unprotected sex with other men, according the director of the National Blood Centre, Soisaang Pikulsod.

Thailand is not the first country to ban gay men from donating blood.

In 1985 the American Red Cross and Food and Drug Administration stopped accepting blood donations from "any male who has had sex with another male since 1977, even once."

Intravenous drug users or recent immigrants from certain nations with high rates of HIV infection are also barred from donating blood.

The continued inclusion of men who have sex with men on the prohibited list has created some degree of controversy.

The United Kingdom Blood and Tissue Transplantation Service states on its website:

"We ask gay men not to give blood because gay men, as a group, are known to be at an increased risk of acquiring HIV and a number of other sexually transmitted infections,many of which are carried in the blood.

"Changing the rule to allow gay men to donate one year after they last had sex with another man would increase the risk by 60%"

Currently in the UK, a man who has ever had oral or anal sex with another man, even with a condom, is barred from donating blood for life because they are deemed to be more at risk of passing on sexually transmitted diseases.

A National Blood Service spokesperson said the ban on gay and bisexual men giving blood is "justified" despite the fact that lifting the order would dramatically increase depleted stocks.

Campaign group has branded current guidelines "outdated and discriminatory" and called for an overhaul of the policy.

Despite the fact that the National Aids Trust [NAT] state that black Africans are an equally high risk group for blood-borne STDs, they are not subject to a blanket lifetime ban in the way that men who have had gay sex are.

The only other people who are permanently banned from donating blood are individuals who have ever received money or drugs for sex and individuals who have ever injected, or been injected, with drugs.

Guidelines from the UK Blood Safety Leaflet specify that any individual donating:

"must wait twelve months after sex with a partner who has, or you think may have been sexually active in parts of the world where HIV/AIDS is very common, including most countries in Africa."

The twelve-month wait is not an option for gay or bisexual men, even one who has been celibate for most of his life.
Australia formerly had a similar ban, but now only prohibits donating blood within one year after male-male sex (longer than the typical window period for HIV blood screening tests performed on donated blood).

In Finland the parliamentary ombudsman launched an investigation on the possible unconstitutionality of the life-time ban in January 2006.

France, Russia and South Africa have also recently lifted the blanket ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men.

They have concluded that their blood donor policy should be based on differentiating between risky and non-risky behaviour, regardless of sexual orientation.