Rectal Microbicides Seen As Key in Preventing New HIV transmissions

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha | Global Editor At Large

Washington DC, US – Unprotected anal sex is a key driver of HIV transmission in many parts of the world. The practice is surrounded with much stigma and discrimination which is a key barrier to developing protective measures.

Microbicide research has gained momentum in recent years with focus largely on products to prevent HIV transmission during vaginal sex. However, there is a growing momentum to develop rectal microbicides for women, men, and transgender individuals around the world who engage in anal intercourse.

Rectal microbicides are products – that could take the form of gels or lubricants – being developed and tested to reduce a person’s risk of HIV or other sexually transmitted infections from anal sex. In spite of the public health need for rectal microbicide research, there is serious institutional, socio-cultural and political stigma around the issue.

According to estimates, the risk of becoming infected with HIV through anal sex is 10 to 20 times greater than vaginal sex because the rectal lining, the mucosa, is thinner and much more fragile than the lining of the vagina.  Because the rectal lining is only one-cell thick, the virus can more easily reach immune cells to infect.

Against this background, developing safe, effective, affordable rectal microbicides is key priority to turning the tide against HIV among populations that engage in anal sex, said Dr Ian McGowan, a leading rectal microbicide researcher.

“We are moving through the early and middle phases of the development of a rectal microbicide,” McGowan, adding that funding is part of the science and that more researchers are required as the research unfolds.

“We need mo people engaged, we need communities to take up the issue – we should follow the science.”

Jim Pickett, Chair of the International Rectal Microbicide Advocates (IRMA) and Directyor of Advocacy at AIDS Foundation of Chicago said that funding for rectal microbicides remains a key challenge for developing rectal microbicide. Pickett said that a total of US 100 million is required to engage in the next phase of studies.

“What is important in developing the next phase of studies is to develop a product that is about pleasure, intimacy, connection, emotion and love. The tools that are out there do not adequately fulfil this need,” he said. “Making the rectal microbicide safe, effective, affordable and acceptable for all who need them is a key priority.”

AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (AVAC) Executive Director, Michael Warren, said that money dedicated to rectal microbicide has been a blip on the map and a more strategic approach is required to attract additional resources.

“We need to articulate what exactly is required for the rectal microbicides; we need to build a comprehensive ask for what is required. It must come with a specific plan so that it does not appear like we are requesting for a blank. We need a clear strategy described scientifically and costed effectively in order to get support,” said Warren.

 

Carol Odada, a Kenyan AIDS activist said that rectal microbicides were not an innovation limited to men who have sex with men only.

“HIV has a woman’s faces, a woman is the main victim but nobody thinks. Every other prevention is other. Every prevention works differently works differently. There is a lot of anal sex going around. It’s unfortunate that some women are forced to engage in anal sex. Rectal micorbicide is not a gay issue. Women have to drive the call for rectal microbicide,” she said.

Zimbabwean, Annah Sango, to Speak at AIDS 2012 Official Opening in US

Washington DC, US – Zimbabwean community activist, Annah Sango, will speak alongside world leaders at the official opening of the International AIDS Conference 2012 in Washington DC on Sunday.

Sango is a peer educator and role model to other young women in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe. She is a member of the International Community of Women Living with HIV and AIDS (Southern Africa) and founded her own community-based support group for women affected by HIV.

“Young people need to move from being passengers to drivers, sexual reproductive health rights are fundamental to everyone the sooner we appreciate that the closer we get to making a difference in the lives of women and young people,” said Sango, a trainer of trainers on issues facing young people.

Sango is a tireless advocate for the reproductive and sexual health rights of young women living with HIV throughout her region, including ensuring their access to woman-initiated prevention options like female condoms.

GlobalPOWER Women Network Africa Conference Opens in Harare

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwashs | iZiviso Global Editor At Large

HARARE, Zimbabwe – Women parliamentarians, leading African women entrepreneurs, civil society leaders, and development partners from Africa are meeting in Harare over the next two days for the inauguration and launch of the GlobalPOWER Women Network Africa.

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The conference, being attended by approximately 300 participants, is aimed at providing a strategic political platform to accelerate game changing approaches to HIV prevention and sexual and reproductive health and rights responses for women and girls. The idea to create an Africa-specific GlobalPOWER Women Network stemmed fom a September 2010 meeting in Washington DC that saw prominent female decision makers come together alongside their US peers to discuss how to accelerate the implementation of the UNAIDS Agenda for Women and Girls.

Participants at the conference are expected to address the key issues affecting girls and women in Africa including eliminating new HIV infections among children, keeping mothers alive and maternal and child health. The meeting will result in the “Harare Call to Action” to advance women’s empowerment and gender equality through HIV and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights responses.

President of the GlobalPOWER Women Network Africa and Zimbabwe Deputy Prime Minister, Thokozani Khupe said that women must take an active role in ensuring their empowerment.

“To achieve the vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths, it is critical to recognise women and girls as key agents in making this vision a reality – society has to invest in the health of women and girls,” Khupe said.

Addressing the conference, Zimbabwe President Robert Gabrial Mugabe said the launch of the network will take the issue of women’s emancipation and empowerment a step further.

Äfter the launch, the real work will begin and call for the same passion, unity of purpose and consistency in pursuing the goals which have characterized this Women’s Network thus far. Of particular note will be the challenge of giving unstinting support to women candidates of every hue and cry; of varying professional qualifications, driven by different talents and capabilities to realise their potential in the collaborative work of Global Power Women Network, the Africa Union and UNAIDS,”said Mugabe.

In Africa, women and girls carry a disproportionate burden of the HIV epidemic – they constitute 59 percent of all people living with the disease. To make matters worse, gender inequality compounded by gender-based vioence, increase women and girl’s risk of HIV infection.

Ëmpowering women and girls to protect themselves against HIV infection and gender-based violence is a non-negotiable in the AIDS response,”said UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sidibe.

Police allegedly detain 11-year old girl for indecent exposure

Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Harare, Zimbabwe – In an incident that left residents of Rimuka, Kadoma shell-shocked, three plain-clothed policemen (names supplied) allegedly arrested and detained an 11-year old girl (name withheld for ethical reasons) for three hours accusing her of indecent exposure on July 7.

According to sources close to the incident, the three policemen arrested the girl who was wearing shorts at a supermarket at Rumwe Shopping Centre in Rimuka.

There was a scuffle between one of the policeman and the girl’s aunt who refused to let the policemen take the girl away. Sources told NewsDay that the police also had a scuffle with girl’s mother when she protested against the arrest. According to the girl’s mother, the policemen allegedly said that they had been aroused by the girl’s dressing hence the arrest.

The commotion allegedly attracted a huge crowd, and the three policemen did not bow insisting that the girl be taken into custody.

When the father of the girl arrived at the scene and also protested, he was threatened with arrest for interfering with the course of justice. In an interview with NewsDay, the girl’s father revealed that at the police station his daughter was told to sit behind a counter next to a man who had been arrested and was bleeding profusely.

“My daughter could not handle the pressure; she must have been very afraid, so she vomited. The policewomen told her to get a mop and wipe her vomit which was now mixed with blood. The policemen were evidently drunk, and they insisted that they had been aroused by the child’s dressing. They said they were trying to maintain law and order  by arresting her,” he said.

The girl was only released after the intervention of the District Senior Police Officer who said that there were no grounds to arrest the girl. In an interview with NewsDay, Chief Supt Manzini Moyo, Officer Commanding District in Kadoma, denied that police had arrested the 11 year-old girl.

“We can confirm there was an arrest of that nature. I don’t have the details at the moment. We are actually looking into the issue. We will take internal disciplinary action. But it was an isolated incident,” said Chief Supt Manzini Moyo, Officer Commanding District.

“We have completed the investigations. It was not an arrest. There were rowdy youths who were booing, chanting and saying obscenities against the girl. The police intervened and tried to take her away from the scene. At that time, one of the parents protested which led to the altercation,” he added.

ZUSAA Calls for Artists to Promote Tolerance

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwasha

Harare, Zimbabwe – The Zimbabwe-United States Alumni Association (ZUSAA), which brings together Zimbabweans who have either lived, studied or participated in exchange programmes to the US and now resident in Zimbabwe, has called for support of programmes that use arts and culture to promote healing and tolerance in the country.

ZUSAA, which was established in 2009, currently has a membership of over a 1,000 alumni who have skills in different sectors ranging from business, government, non-profit organizations, trade unions, arts and culture among many other professions.

According to the ZUSAA National Coordinator, Michael Mabwe, the organization was formed to ensure that the skills and expertise of Zimbabweans who have been to the US are used for national development.

“We realized that after benefiting from rare experiences abroad, there was a need to continue with some of the concepts learned while in the US. Hence, the need for a platform which brings these leaders together and use their collective effort to give back to the various sectors in Zimbabwe,” said Mabwe, who is also a beneficiary of the US’s International Visitors’ Program on Promoting Tolerance through the Arts.

Mabwe, who is also a renowned human rights poet, said that artists have a big role to play in the national life of Zimbabwe.

“We want to see artists engaging more with the national question, particularly around promoting healing because as artists, they’re soul of the nation. With their art work – if done above political lines – artists can play a major role in diffusing tension that is currently being experienced locally. We want artists to be ambassadors of peace who in their collective effort can help spearhead an effective peace campaign,” he said.

Mabwe added that it is important for artists in the country to collaborate with the Organ on National Healing as well as the Church and Civil Society Forum to promote national healing.

“If the country is bleeding, there can be no development that can take place. Therefore, it means that we cannot improve the lives and livelihoods of our people. Political parties must put the needs of the general populace first before their narrow political ends,” said Mabwe.

“People limit the idea of national healing to political violence yet there are a number of sectors in our society that need  healing, apart from politics. From our industry, our education sector, our tourism, our politics among others, there is a need for healing to take place so that Zimbabwe can reclaim its status as a peaceful, and progressive country amongst the global family,” he said.

Mabwe said that ZUSAA will continue to contribute to different national processes by utilizing the broad skills base within its membership.

AIDS: Wheregoes the Money?

JUST how much money are the recipients of AIDS funds putting into programmes that have a real impact on communities affected by the disease without hip- hopping around the world or engaging in endless AIDS workshops? It appears that unless there is serious public account of where exactly AIDS dollars are going, we are in for a long ride with the epidemic. Continue reading

Human Trafficking for Sexual Exploitation: The Need for a Global Perspective

Across the world, approximately 200,000 women and children are trafficked each year for purposes of sexual exploitation. Currently, approximately two million women and children are held in sexual servitude. Many of them die of AIDS, other STDs, ill-health physical and psychological abuse, violence and drug abuse. A surge in public indignation supported by empirical evidence is required to put an end to this cruel form of modern human slavery. Continue reading