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The East African : Dec 8th 2014
30 The EastAfrican OUTLOOK DECEMBER 6-12,2014 D E VE LO PME N T Africa’s under 25 to bear greatest HIV burden This g≥oup of 15to 24-yea≥ olds has neve≥ known a wo≥ld without HIV By CHRISTABEL LIGAMI Special Correspondent A round half of all new HIV/ Aids infections each year are people under the age of 25, with 6,000 new infections a day — one every 15 seconds — according to a new report by the United Nations Aids agency UNAids. This group of 15- to 24-year olds has never known a world without HIV/Aids, and now bears the greatest burden of the disease. Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania are among the countries that account for 89 per cent of all new HIV infections in the world. The report shows that these young people are vulnerable to HIV/Aids for numerous reasons like their age, physical, emotional, financial and psychological state. These factors are intensified in times of war and poverty. “For example, impoverished families are unable to educate their children or provide good medical care. In the absence of school, the young people become more prone to risky behaviour,” said the report. “Despite the fact that HIV/Aids is mostly affecting the youth, they have as a group have been left out, which has meant that the virus has continued to spread, and shows no signs of abating.” Also in some countries where national sex education programmes are widespread, social taboos often prevent the youth from getting the message. For example, in conservative and predominantly Muslim societies, sex education and the use of condoms is forbidden and blamed for promoting promiscuity. The report shows that nearly three million young people (15– Nigeria -15 Ivory Coast - 1 HIV prevalence among young people aged 20–24 in eastern Africa (percentage) Cameroon - 3 Zambia - 4 Angola - 2 Mozambique - 8 Zimbabwe - 5 89 pe≥ cent Kenya, Uganda & Tanzania among countries that account for 89pc of all new HIV infections in the world 24 years) in sub-Saharan Africa live with HIV — three-quarters of the HIV-positive total in that age group worldwide. Another 2.9 million children (0-14 years) also live with HIV, of whom 75 per cent receive no treatment. However, young women con- tract HIV more often and at younger ages than men, and rates of HIV infection more than double between adolescent girls (5.6 per cent) and young women (17.4 per cent). Seven out of 10 young people do not have correct information about how HIV is transmitted. This according to the report is because young women in Africa tend to be less educated and poorer than young men, thus making them less aware of the risks. Also, women are not incharge of making decisions about their sexual health, or properly protect themselves against HIV. Milestone Activists are celebrating what they see as a pretty major milestone in efforts to combat the deadly virus — for the first time in the past year, the number of HIV patients who started receiving medication was greater than those newly infected with the virus, according to the ONE Campaign. That marks a “tipping point” in global efforts to fight a disease that’s killed about 40 million people worldwide since it was first reported a little more than 30 years ago, the campaign declared. However, more progress is still needed. Though global funding for HIV/Aids hit an all-time high of $19.1 billion in 2013, that’s still at least $3 billion less than what UNAids says is needed each year to control the virus. And HIV is increasingly concentrated among harder-to-reach populations, in- Lesotho- 2 South Africa - 23 Source: UNAids cluding men who have sex with men, female sex workers, injection drug users and adolescent girls, according to the report. United Nations data shows that in 2013, 35 million people were living with HIV, 2.1 million people were newly infected with the virus and about 1.5 million people died of Aids. By far the greatest part of the HIV/Aids burden is in sub-Saharan Africa. While Aids mortality in the general population is decreasing, it has increased in young people. Populations at higher risk of acquiring HIV who often live on the margins of society — including men who have sex with men, transgender people, sex workers, and people who use drugs — are not benefiting equally from the gains of the Aids response. In many places, punitive laws and policies still impede access DRC - 2 Ethiopia - 7 Uganda -10 Kenya - 7 Tanzania - 5 Malawi - 2 HIV prevalence among young people aged 15–19 in eastern Africa (percentage) Trends in new HIV infections for top 10 countries in subSaharan Africa, 2005 and 2013 percentage change Percentage new HIV infect Saharan Africa, 2013 to basic services, and protective laws and policies are missing in action. Stigma, discrimination, gender inequality, and sexual and gender-based violence continue to hinder evidence and rights-based HIV responses. UNAids said that, by June 2014, about 13.6 million people globally had access to Aids drugs, a dramatic improvement on the five million who were getting treatment in 2010. However, a new study by sci- entists from the University of Oxford said that HIV is evolving to become less deadly and less infectious. The scientists say that the virus is being “watered down” as it adapts to our immune systems. Longer life “It is taking longer for the HIV infection to cause Aids and this change in the virus may help efforts to contain the pandemic,” said the researchers. Some virologists suggest the virus may eventually become “almost harmless” as it continues to evolve. The findings published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences also suggested anti-retroviral drugs were forcing HIV to evolve into milder forms. It showed the drugs would primarily target the nastiest versions of HIV and encourage the milder ones to thrive. “Twenty years ago it used to Despite the fact that HIV/Aids is mostly affecting the youth, they have as a group been left out.” UNAids report take 10 years for the HIV infection to cause Aids, but in the past 10 years in Africa, for example, that might have increased to 12.5 years — a sort of incremental change, but in the big picture that is a rapid change,” said the study report. “As time passes this could stretch further and further and in the future result in people being asymptomatic for decades.” However, the group did cau- tion that even a watered-down version of HIV was still dangerous and could cause Aids. Bacte≥ia in human gut could encou≥age defence against mala≥ia pa≥asite By CHRISTABEL LIGAMI Special Correspondent SPECIFIC BACTERIAL components in the human gut can trigger a natural defence mechanism that is highly protective against malaria transmission, according to a study published in the scientific journal Cell. It has been speculated that natural antibodies directed against sugar molecules expressed by the microbiota may also recognise similar sugar molecules expressed by pathogens, that is, parasites that can cause diseases in humans. The scientists found that the Plasmodium parasite — the causative agent of malaria — expresses a sugar molecule called alpha-gal, which is also expressed at the surface of a strain of E. coli that is part of the human gut microbiota. In a series of experiments per- formed in mice, the researchers also found that expression of alphagal by these bacteria, when resident in the gut, is sufficient to induce the production of natural antibodies that can recognise the same sugar molecule when expressed at the surface of Plasmodium parasites. They discovered that these an- tibodies attach to the alpha-gal sugar at the surface of Plasmodium parasites, immediately after the inoculation in the skin by a mosquito, the vector of malaria transmission. When this occurs the anti-alpha- gal antibodies activate an additional arm of the human immune system, called the complement cascade, which goes on to punch holes and kills the Plasmodium parasite 460,000 before it can move out of the skin. The protective effect is such that when present at high levels at the time of the mosquito bite, anti-alpha-gal antibodies manage to arrest the transition of the parasite from the skin into the blood stream and by doing so block malaria transmission. What it means “One of the beauties of the pro- WHO data from 2012 shows that about 460,000 African children died from malaria before reaching their fifth birthday tective mechanism we just discovered is that it can be induced via a standard vaccination protocol, leading to the production of high levels of anti-alpha-gal antibodies that bind and kill the Plasmodium parasite. If we can vaccinate these young children against alpha-gal, many lives might be saved,” said Miguel Soares of the the Instituto Gulbenkian de Ciência (Portugal) and the study leader. It is estimated that 3.4 billion people are at risk of contracting malaria and WHO data from 2012 shows that about 460,000 African children died from malaria before reaching their fifth birthday. The present study argues that if one can induce the production of antibodies against alpha-gal in those children one may be able to revert these grim numbers.
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