July 20, 2010
They said the gel, containing Aids drug tenofovir, cut infection rates among 889 women by 50% after one year of use, and by 39% after two and a half years.
If the results are confirmed it would be the first time that a microbicidal gel has been shown to be effective.
Such a gel could be a defence for women whose partners refuse to wear condoms.
New ways of curbing the spread of HIV are badly needed, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where nearly 60% of those infected with the virus are women.
Many women are often forced to take part in unsafe sex, and are biologically more vulnerable to HIV infection than men, making a gel they apply an attractive option.
Welcoming the results, UN agencies said they would convene an expert consultation in South Africa next month to discuss the next steps with the product.
The results of the three-year study, which was completed by the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa (Caprisa), are being presented at an international aids conference in Vienna and were published on Monday by the US magazine Science.
The gel was found to be both safe and acceptable when used once in the 12 hours before sex and once in the 12 hours after sex by women aged 18 to 40 years.
Salim Abdool Karim, one of the two leading co-researchers, told reporters in Vienna that the 889 women involved in the trial, conducted in the coastal city of Durban and a remote rural village, had largely used the gel as directed.
They were also given condoms and advice about sexually transmitted diseases, and tested for HIV once a month.
After 30 months, 98 women became infected with HIV – 38 in the group that got tenofovir in the gel and 60 in the group that got placebos.
“We showed a 39% lower incidence of HIV in the tenofovir group,” Dr Karim said.
Tenofovir, he added, lowered the risk of infection by 50% at 12 months but then the efficacy declined.
Women who used the gel more consistently were much less likely to be infected, he said.
He added that he did not know how much each dose would cost but said the applicators and gel cost “just pennies”.
“Boy, have we been doing the happy dance,” Dr Karim, from the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, said.
‘Hope for women’
“It’s the first time we’ve ever seen any microbicide give a positive result that you could say was statistically significant,” said Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
The researchers say women who used the gel also showed a significant reduction in genital herpes, a common sexually transmitted infection, which itself increases the risk of HIV infection.
The UN’s HIV/Aids agency noted that nearly 20 years of research had gone into microbicides that can be controlled by a woman, independent of her partner.
“We are giving hope to women,” said Mr Michel Sidibe, executive director of UNAids.
“For the first time we have seen results for a woman-initiated and controlled HIV prevention option.”
A microbicide, he said, would be a “powerful option for the prevention revolution and help us break the trajectory of the Aids epidemic”.
Dr Margaret Chan, director-general of the World Health Organization, welcomed Caprisa’s findings.
“We look forward in seeing these results confirmed,” she said.
“Once they have been shown to be safe and effective, WHO will work with countries and partners to accelerate access to these products.”
July 14, 2010
In an interview earlier today with the South African Broadcasting Corporation to air in a few hours, President Obama disparaged al Qaeda and affiliated groups’ willingness to kill Africans in a manner that White House aides say was an argument that the terrorist groups are racist.
Speaking about the Uganda bombings, the president said, “What you’ve seen in some of the statements that have been made by these terrorist organizations is that they do not regard African life as valuable in and of itself. They see it as a potential place where you can carry out ideological battles that kill innocents without regard to long-term consequences for their short-term tactical gains.”
Earlier today a senior administration official said the Obama administration believes that Al Shabaab carried out the attack.
Explaining the president’s comment, an administration official said Mr. Obama “references the fact that both U.S. intelligence and past al Qaeda actions make clear that al Qaeda — and the groups like al Shabaab that they inspire — do not value African life. The actions of al Qaeda and the groups that it has inspired show a willingness to sacrifice innocent African life to reach their targets.”
This can be seen, the official said, in the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, when hundreds of Africans were killed and thousands wounded.
“Additionally, U.S. intelligence has indicated that al Qaeda leadership specifically targets and recruits black Africans to become suicide bombers because they believe that poor economic and social conditions make them more susceptible to recruitment than Arabs,” the official said. “Al Qaeda recruits have said that al Qaeda is racist against black members from West Africa because they are only used in lower level operations.”
“In short,” the official said, “al Qaeda is a racist organization that treats black Africans like cannon fodder and does not value human life.”
The president also said in the interview that “it was so tragic and ironic to see an explosion like this take place when people in Africa were celebrating and watching the World Cup take place in South Africa. On the one hand, you have a vision of an Africa on the move, an Africa that is unified, an Africa that is modernizing and creating opportunities; and on the other hand, you’ve got a vision of al Qaeda and Al Shabaab that is about destruction and death.
“And I think it presents a pretty clear contrast in terms of the future that most Africans want for themselves and their children,” Mr. Obama said. “And we need to make sure that we are doing everything we can to support those who want to build, as opposed to want to destroy.”
May 19, 2010
By Toby Sterling, AP
Dutch security officials said Wednesday they are taking seriously the threat to soccer fans after a terrorism suspect arrested in Iraq claimed he considered attacking Dutch or Danish fans at the World Cup in South Africa.
But the Dutch anti-terrorism office and Danish authorities said they aren’t yet planning any new security measures in response.
Judith Sluiter of the Netherlands’ anti-terrorism coordination office says the comments made by Abdullah Azam Saleh al-Qahtani were in line with her agency’s perception of potential threats.
“Dutch interests abroad are more at risk than they are inside this country at the moment,” Sluiter said. “Here, they’re limited, but abroad, they’re substantial.”
Al-Qahtani said he considered attacking the Dutch and Danish teams or fans to avenge perceived insults to Islam.
“We discussed the possibility of taking revenge for the insults of the prophet by attacking Denmark and Holland,” al-Qahtani told The Associated Press. “If we were not able to reach the teams, then we’d target the fans.”
Al-Qahtani, a Saudi citizen, was arrested in Iraq on May 3 after a note he had written detailing similar plans was found at a house where two leading al-Qaida suspects were killed in April.
Dutch citizens are considered potential targets in part due to an anti-Islam film made by right-wing Dutch politician Geert Wilders. Similarly, Danes have been considered at risk due to the publication of cartoons featuring Islam’s prophet Mohammed.
Vish Naidoo, a spokesman for South African police, said the report from Baghdad would not affect World Cup security planning because terrorism had always been part of the calculations.
Interpol, the international police coordination agency, is sending 200 experts to assist at the tournament, while each of the 31 visiting teams will be sending up to eight officers to work with South African counterparts.
South Africa has trained 44,000 extra police for the event.
Sluiter said her agency was in touch with intelligence agencies about potential threats and “keeping its finger on the pulse.”
The Netherlands national team departs for a pre-tournament training camp in Switzerland on Wednesday.
Denmark captain Jon Dahl Tomasson declined to comment Wednesday on the terrorism threat.
“I think we should focus on one thing, and that is we are heading out to play great football,” the Feyenoord striker said.
February 22, 2010
By Steve Connor
Testing everyone at risk of HIV and treating them with anti-retroviral drugs could eradicate the global epidemic within 40 years, according to the scientist at the centre of a radical new approach to fighting Aids.
An aggressive programme of prescribing anti-retroviral treatment (ART) to every person infected with HIV could stop all new infections in five years and eventually wipe out the epidemic, said Brian Williams of the South African Centre for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis.
Dr Williams is part of a growing body of experts who believe that anti-HIV drugs are probably the best hope of preventing and even eliminating the spread of Aids, rather than waiting for the development of an effective vaccine or relying solely on people changing their sexual lifestyle.
The idea will be tested in the coming year, with the start of the first properly controlled clinical trial involving thousands of people living in a part of South Africa with a high incidence of HIV and Aids. Dr Williams said this will be followed by similar trials in the US, where HIV is rampant among some inner-city communities.
“Our immediate best hope is to use ART not only to save lives but also to reduce transmission of HIV. I believe if we used ART drugs we could effectively stop transmission of HIV within five years,” Dr Williams said. “It may be possible to stop HIV transmission and halve Aids-related TB within 10 years and eliminate both infections within 40 years,” he told the American Association for the Advancement of Science in San Diego, California.
Anti-retroviral drugs dramatically lower the concentration of HIV within a person’s bloodstream, and, in addition to protecting patients against Aids, they significantly lower an individual’s infectiousness – their ability to transmit the virus to another person.
Dr Williams and his supporters believe that if enough infected people are treated, it would lower the rate of infection to such an extent that the epidemic would die out within the lifetime of those undergoing the treatment. Aids could effectively be wiped out by the middle of this century, he said.
“The problem is that we are using the drugs to save lives, but we are not using them to stop transmission,” Dr Williams said. Blocking transmission can only be done with an extensive testing regime followed by rapid treatment with anti-retroviral drugs to everyone found to be HIV positive, he said.
“The concentration of the virus drops 10,000 times [with ART] … This probably translates into a 25-fold reduction in infectiousness. But if you did this it would be enough essentially to stop transmission,” he said.
A study published in 2008 showed that it is theoretically possible to cut new HIV cases by 95 per cent, from a prevalence of 20 per 1,000 to 1 per 1,000, within 10 years of implementing a programme of universal testing and prescription of ART drugs.
“Each person with HIV infects, on average, one person every one or two years. Since people with HIV, and without treatment, live for an average of 10 years after infection, each person with HIV infects about five to 10 people,” Dr Williams said. “Treating people with ART within about one year of becoming infected would reduce transmission by about 10 times. Each person with HIV would infect, on average, less than one other person and the epidemic would die out.”
ART drugs have to be taken on a daily basis for life, and the cost for South Africa alone would be about $4bn (£2.6bn) per year. However, Dr Williams said that the cost of having to treat a growing number of Aids patients, as well as the economic cost of young adults dying off, would be higher than giving out free ART drugs to everyone who needs them.
“The key issue of cost is that if you don’t do anything it costs you a lot of money. In South Africa we spend a lot of money on people who are hospitalised with infections related to HIV,” Dr Williams said. “More importantly, we are killing young adults in the prime of their life just when they should be contributing to society. The cost to society of that is enormous.
“If you factor all of the costs into the equation then, in my opinion, doing this is a cost saving from day one because the cost of the drugs will be more than outweighed by the costs of treating all of these people with other diseases,” he said. “A friend of mine said that the only thing that is more expensive than doing this is not doing this.”
The first full-scale clinical trial is being planned in Hlabisa in Somkhele, about 220km north of Durban. It will be designed to test whether it is possible to ensure that people who are taking ART drugs comply with the strict prescription regime of daily pill taking, as well as discovering whether transmission rates fall below the level needed to sustain the epidemic.
“One quarter of the global cases are in southern Africa and one half of these are in South Africa, so South Africa is extraordinarily badly affected,” Dr Williams said.
“We could stop transmission quickly, but it doesn’t end the problem because people are infected with HIV for life. So we really are in it for the long term. We need to do a lot of operational research before we can consider this seriously as a public-health intervention, but there is a lot of enthusiasm for it,” he added.
December 21, 2009
By Ben Webster and Frances Elliot
A new global body dedicated to environmental stewardship is needed to prevent a repeat of the deadlock which undermined the Copenhagen climate change summit, Gordon Brown will say tomorrow.
The UN’s consensual method of negotiation, which requires all 192 countries to reach agreement, needs to be reformed to ensure that the will of the majority prevails, he feels.
The Prime Minister will say: “Never again should we face the deadlock that threatened to pull down those talks. Never again should we let a global deal to move towards a greener future be held to ransom by only a handful of countries. One of the frustrations for me was the lack of a global body with the sole responsibility for environmental stewardship.
“I believe that in 2010 we will need to look at reforming our international institutions to meet the common challenges we face as a global community.” The summit failed to produce a political agreement among all the countries. Delegates instead passed a motion on Saturday “taking note” of an accord drawn up the night before by five countries: the US, China, India, Brazil and South Africa.
Despite being the first world leader to join the summit, Mr Brown was excluded from the key meeting where the compromise was decided.
Ed Miliband, the Climate Change Secretary, admitted today that the results of the Copenhagen conference were “disappointing” because of the absence of agreement on emissions targets or a deadline for turning the accord into a legally binding treaty.
Mr Miliband pointed the finger of blame at China for resisting a legal agreement and its rejection of a proposal for 50 per cent cut in global greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Efforts to give legal force to the commitments in the Copenhagen accord came up against “impossible resistance from a small number of developing countries, including China, who didn’t want a legal agreement”, he said.
Challenged over accusations that the agreement reached in Copenhagen failed to protect poor people in developing countries, Mr Miliband said: “The eventual outcome was disappointing. But the idea that walking away from agreement would have been better for people facing climate change is frankly ridiculous.
“I think we can protect and help those people’s lives and indeed protect them from climate change through this agreement.
“The fact is that we have got fast-start finance of $10 billion a year flowing as a result of this agreement.” He said it was important that countries had agreed for the need to make emissions cuts, even though they had failed to commit to specific targets.
“We won’t know the precise shape of [the national emission targets] until the beginning of February, and we are going to have to push for them to be higher.
“Even though there were things we didn’t achieve, the fact is we have got for the first time developing countries coming together and saying that they are going to reduce emissions, and the finance is flowing.”
Mr Miliband rejected claims that Britain and the European Union were “sidelined” by their absence from a meeting at which President Obama and the leaders of China, India, Brazil and South Africa thrashed out the basic shape of the accord.
“I don’t think that was the meeting that in the end decided the agreement,” he said. “The big decisions took place in a group of about 30 countries in which President Sarkozy, Chancellor Merkel and Gordon Brown were represented.”
In the accord
• Agreement that “deep cuts in global emissions are required according to science”
• “Long co-operative action” needed to keep the global temperature increase below 2C
• Rich countries should submit proposals for economy-wide emission reduction targets for 2020 to the UN by January 31
• By the same date, developing countries should produce plans to cut the rate of growth of their emissions
• There should be international monitoring of any emission cuts in developing countries that are funded by rich countries
• A reassessment of the accord by 2015 to check whether emission reductions are on track to keep the temperature increase below 2C
• Consideration in 2015 of strengthening the goal to 1.5C
July 12, 2009
by David Smith
Cash machines offer an ever-growing menu of services beyond merely dispensing money. For tampering criminals, this now includes a squirt of pepper spray in the face .
The extreme measure is the latest in South Africa‘s escalating war against armed robbers who target banks and cash delivery vans. The number of cash machines blown up with explosives has risen from 54 in 2006 to 387 in 2007 and nearly 500 last year.
The technology uses cameras to detect people tampering with the card slots. Another machine then ejects pepper spray to stun the culprit while police response teams race to the scene.
But the mechanism backfired in one incident last week when pepper spray was inadvertently inhaled by three technicians who required treatment from paramedics.
Patrick Wadula, spokesman for the Absa bank, which is piloting the scheme, told the Mail & Guardian Online: “During a routine maintenance check at an Absa ATM in Fish Hoek, the pepper spray device was accidentally activated.
“At the time there were no customers using the ATM. However, the spray spread into the shopping centre where the ATMs are situated.”
In conjunction with the police, Absa is using the technology at 11 sites, identified as high-risk by branch managers.
If successful, it will be expanded to cash machines around the country.
Transporting money is one of South Africa’s most risky occupations. In May a Group 4 security guard was killed in Johannesburg when a gang used explosives to blow open a cash transit van. His partner was shot in the back as he tried to escape.