HIV epidemic hits USA state

Health emergency declared after Indiana HIV ‘epidemic’

BBC News

Governor Pence met with local officials about the HIV outbreak on Wednesday

Governor Pence met with local officials about the HIV outbreak on Wednesday

The governor of Indiana has declared a public health emergency after an HIV outbreak “reached epidemic proportions” in part of the state.

Scott County, a poor area where needle-sharing by drug users is common, has seen 79 new cases in recent weeks – up from an annual average of five.

Governor Mike Pence has authorised health officials to implement a needle exchange programme – a remedy he has opposed in the past.

HIV is the virus that causes Aids.

“Scott County is facing an epidemic of HIV, but this is not a Scott County problem; this is an Indiana problem,” the governor said.

“With additional state resources and new tools provided by this emergency declaration, I am confident that together we will stop this HIV outbreak in its tracks.”

The outbreak was first identified in late January. Since then, officials have diagnosed 79 people with the life-threatening virus – up from 26 cases just one month ago.

State officials said the governor’s emergency declaration provides additional resources for officials to coordinate a response to the “outbreak of HIV that has reached epidemic proportions”.

State epidemiologist Pam Pontones said almost all of the cases originated from illegal drug users sharing syringes.

A large majority of the victims had shared a needle with an infected person while injecting Opana, a prescription painkiller.

Officials expect the number of infections to rise, and are working to contact as many as 100 other people linked to those with confirmed cases.

The order will authorise local health officials to create a temporary needle exchange programme under the supervision of the state health agency.

Mr Pence, a Republican, has opposed such programmes in the past on the grounds that they are not effective in controlling drug use.

Ed Clere, a member of the state’s legislature and another Republican, said similar legislation was proposed last year but it became stalled in the state’s Senate.

“Unfortunately we’re back here, not just with needle exchange as a hypothetical theory, but with a real situation where a needle exchange could make a difference,” he said.

Scott County is located about 30 miles (48km) north of Louisville, Kentucky.

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Patients in danger as ARVs run out

by Staff Reporter | NewZimbabwe

hiv-patientMORE than half a million people living with HIV and AIDS are in danger as the public hospitals countrywide are experiencing shortages of the anti-retroviral (ARVs) drugs.

So acute is the situation that patients are now being forced to switch to drug combinations something which experts say compromises their health. According to experts mixing of drugs leads to a patient becoming drug resistant which leads to death.

Nazareth hospital is one of the institutions hit by a critical shortage of second line treatment drugs to such an extent that they are now giving adults second line drugs for children.

“I went to check on my drugs but I was given this syrup for children as drugs are said not to be available at the moment,” the source said.

“It’s like being given paracetamol for children and expect to be healed,” the source said.

Zimbabwe HIV and AIDS Activist Union (ZHAAU) vice president Stanley Takaona said the government has put its people on death row by failing to avail the life-saving drugs.

“This is surprising because last week we went for a community monitoring project in Mashonaland Central and what we saw was shocking,” Takaona said.

“In Mashonaland Central children are being given medication meant for adults, the opposite of what is happening at Nazareth hospital,” he said.

Zimbabwe in 2012 switched to Tenofovier, a new ARV regimen following guidelines released by the World Health Organisations. The new drug is said to have lesser side effects compared to Stalanev which the government has been prescribing to all HIV patients.

However since the introduction of the new drugs there has been a decline in the supply of ARVs in all public institutions leading to patients being given one week supply instead of two months or at times given the old drugs that have serious side effects.

Early this year government approached the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) to help ease the drug shortages through the Global Fund.

UNDP insiders said while the Health ministry approached their organisation there have been challenges in shipping the drugs in order to meet the demand and that government should play its role in procuring drugs rather than blaming their partners.

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HIV positive students suffer discrimination

by Pamenus Tuso | The Zimbabwean

Despite years of hard work by government agencies, NGOs and community groups, youths living with HIV and AIDS are still stigmatised at school and in their communities.

Zimbabwe National Network of People Living with HIV (ZNNP+) Bulawayo chairperson, Anderson Ndlovu.

Zimbabwe National Network of People Living with HIV (ZNNP+) Bulawayo chairperson, Anderson Ndlovu.

HIV positive youths who spoke to The Zimbabwean strictly on condition of anonymity said stigma and discrimination continue to prevent them from accessing readily available HIV and AIDS support services.

An HIV positive girl studying at the Midlands State University (MSU) said stigmatisation has become rife at the university where she said HIV positive students were mocked and given nicknames.

“Most HIV positive students like myself keeps our status as a secret because the moment you reveal it to other students you will be ridiculed. For example, in my class there is a clique of students who are in the habit of referring to HIV positive people as cell phones and ARVs as airtime cards.

Every morning you hear them shouting please please do not forget to juice your cell phones – a reference to us,” she said. Positive youths, especially girls, face numerous challenges when it comes to dating.

“Like anybody else we all have normal sexual feelings and wishes to be married. HIV positive girls face a serious dilemma because if you try to be honest and reveal your status to your partner he will run way from you. If you keep it a secret, you have a problem again because the partner does not want to use a condom,” she said.

Another HIV student from a local secondary school in the city regretted confiding her HIV status to one of her friends. “Everyone at the school is now aware of my status. The other day a group of boys asked me to show them what ARVs looks like. I am now an outcast at the school,” she said.

Zimbabwe National Network of People Living with HIV (ZNNP+) Bulawayo chairperson, Anderson Ndlovu, said his organisation is worried about the high incidence of stigmatisation among students in educational institutions.

“Our HIV/AIDS intervention programmes have tended to exclude the youths. This anomaly has unfortunately created gaps in knowledge and great stigma – not only in colleges but even in communities where the youths live. The stigma is even worse in incidences where both parents have died,” said Ndlovu.

His organisation has embarked on various HIV and AIDS campaign programmes in the city. “In this campaign we are targeting both the affected and those youths who think they are in the comfort zone. We launched this campaign at Ndlovu Youth Centre in Tshabalala high density suburb. During the launch, some HIV positive youths gave testimonies about their experiences. We want to break the silence among youths regarding HIV,” he said.

HIV-infected baby not cured after all

Dr. Hannah Gay

Dr. Hannah Gay

by Joshua M. Dziba | HIV/AIDS|Zimbabwe Charity, INC.

A toddler born in Mississippi, in the USA, has turned out to still be infected with the HIV virus after-all. The toddler had been administered an aggressive anti-retroviral therapy after being born to an HIV-positive mother who had not received any prenatal HIV therapy.

Today’s news reported by CNN comes as a major disappointment to all concerned as high hopes of eventually curing HIV/AIDS had been pinned on this case. The news also highlights the fact that there is still a lot that needs to be understood particularly about where and how the HIV virus hides in the human body.

The 2013 reports of the baby’s “cure” were based on the fact that after the receiving an uncharacteristically aggressive anti-retroviral therapy administered by Dr. Hannah Gay of the University of Mississippi Medical Center, the toddler remained with no detectable HIV virus a year later, with no further therapy.  The toddler was then hailed as the second person known to have been cured of HIV, after the reported cure of Timothy Ray Brown in 2007.

The HIV virus was detected in the now 4-year old child during a routine doctor’s visit this month.  The child is reportedly now back on anti-retroviral therapy. Read the CNN report on this news here.

Unpacking HIV, AIDS through the lenses of religion

by Byron Mutingwende | NewsDay

The world has been battling the spread of HIV and AIDS which continues to claim millions of lives every single day.

It is for this reason that majority of these people are pinning their hopes on science and medicine while others in Zimbabwe have resorted to faith healing.

“Humanity has been shaken to the core by the HIV and AIDS pandemic,” says Michael Bartos, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) country director for Zimbabwe.

He was speaking at St Mary’s Lutheran Church in Chitungwiza recently where a faith-healing and HIV discussion forum was held.

The forum also included participants from the Southern Africa HIV and AIDS Information Dissemination Service (SAfAids).

These specialist groups shared findings on the relation between faith-healing from women living with HIV and how this impacted on accessing treatment.

Barton hailed Zimbabwe for its great strides towards reducing the prevalence of HIV which had fallen from 100 000 per year to current levels of 60 000 per year owing to the use of anti-retroviral therapy.

The discussions were focused on a booklet entitled: Stories of shattered hope: Experiences of women living with HIV and Faith Healing in Zimbabwe, which was jointly funded by both Safaids and UNAIDS.

The booklet shows that faith-healing practices in Zimbabwe have rapidly increased, creating a sense of despair and insecurity.

“For many women living with HIV (WLHIV) persuasive faith-healers ‘promising’ a cure are hard to resist as societal stigma persists. Efforts have been made to engage the religious sector in a bid to counter the often damaging services and practices offered by some faith healers.

“As long as demand for the services is available, faith-healers can – by law – continue to supply these services,” noted the booklet.

Fountain of Life Ministries church pastor Caroline Maposhere, who also doubles as an HIV activist reckoned that faith was a critical part of happiness and health which must be incorporated in faith-healing discussions.

“When we talk of medication and HIV, it is not new – faith helps your state of mind, so the effect of your state of mind on disease and illness is not new to HIV. This is where faith can really help. With medical conditions, you are told not to stress, and we know faith and fellowship relaxes you and makes the medicines work better so you have better health and life outcomes,” Maposhere said.

She urged church leaders to equip themselves with knowledge on HIV and appreciate God for availing HIV treatment since congregants look up to them for information regarding the pandemic.

“As fellow church leaders, we must know what to say when someone comes to you with ‘undetectables’ – it is cause to celebrate but do not make the mistake of saying you are now free from the condition. You have to continue taking medication,” Maposhere said.

International Network of Religious Leaders living with or affected by HIV and AIDS (INERELA + ) Zimbabwe chapter Reverend national coordinator Zvidzai Chiponda said the church must be seen as a place where love and care for people living with HIV was not discriminatory and non-stigmatising.

“We also need to understand faith-healing inclusively of biomedicine – God has made it possible to provide ARVs and is still working his miracles through ARVs – this is God’s hand throughout – his healing hand through the power of ARVs.  God who determines when and how He wants to heal you,” Chiponda said.

She added that there was need to understand healing in the context of cure and reiterated that there is no cure for HIV at the moment.

“Religious leaders should not manipulate or abuse people in their congregations. We should neither attack nor tamper with people living with HIV just because they have not been healed. Taking ARVs does not mean that you do not have faith. God and ARVs are meant for everyone whether or not they belong to some church or belief system because the very same God is the one who made it possible for scientists to come up with this treatment,” Chiponda said.

Chiponda, who is living with HIV, lost her daughter after succumbing to HIV complications. She has since 2006, been taking anti-retroviral therapy.

Another woman living with HIV, Margret Cement (38) said she nearly died after a prophet had told her to stop taking treatment (ARVs).

“I developed sores in and around my private parts, even though my husband and I were using condoms. I knew something was wrong. I went to the clinic and they took my CD4 count and it had dropped dramatically from +/-350 to only 115. So this was the result of not taking my ARVs,” Cement said.

Cement bemoaned how church leaders denigrated her for lacking faith when she resumed taking ARVs and was subjected to ridicule and discrimination until she left and joined a new church that permits people living with HIV to take medication.

“I worship and help many other people living with HIV from my new church and I am now so free and open about my condition. We actually have a support group of people living with HIV (PLHIV) at church where we encourage and share ideas on how to stay healthy.The only way to stay healthy is to continuously take your medicines so that the viral load is curtailed. I now have a second baby who is nine months old and I give thanks to my church that has encouraged me to remain focused on God. My faith is intact,” Cement added.

Church leaders disclosed that members were aware on where to get HIV/AIDS information but they however noted that it was easy to discuss HIV preventive measures only at workshops.

“It is difficult to discuss this in a church environment where some are closely related, like for example in-laws. Church leaders may devise a strategy to enable PLWHIV give testimonies on how they are living positively with HIV,” Bible Believing Church leader, Mike Muwani.

Churches also compromised congregants’ to adherence to ARVs during fasting and that the lack of confidentiality on the part of pastors who disclosed the HIV status of PLWHIV.

Lack of resources for home-based care initiatives, discordant couples and denial were among the challenges that churches were battling with in the fight against HIV.

As part of solutions, church leaders were urged to link the church doctrine with biomedicine, create HIV and AIDS  information desks, discourage stigma and discrimination and promote awareness on the prevention and treatment of HIV and AIDS.

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