Thanks to everyone who reached out. Taking a much needed break after years of updating R20 up to six or eight times daily. On hiatus until May. Please follow me on Facebook, Twitter and at The Atlantic.
Join me on Philadelphia's WURD-AM tonight at 5ET on "The Nick Taliaferro Show".
On the menu: My first report from Cape Town for The Atlantic—"A Promising HIV Vaccine in South Africa"—and the potentially game-changing HIV vaccine trials that will begin in January 2015. We'll also discuss the global epidemic and the challenges to developing and delivering a vaccine in Africa and here at home.
CAPE TOWN: After more than 30 years into the HIV/AIDS pandemic, a vaccine remains elusive—and much needed. Globally, about 35 million people are living with HIV, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS or UNAIDS. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to two-thirds of all people living with HIV/AIDS and the main driver is unprotected heterosexual sex. The only HIV-vaccine clinical trial that has shown potential so far is the United States’ and Thai military’s vaccine, RV144, the results of which were announced in 2009.
The first in a series of trials designed to build on the success of RV144 has now passed a key test in South Africa. A safety trial using the same vaccine regimen from RV 144—but with an added booster shot 12 months afterward—has has shown to be safe for South Africans and demonstrated “robust” immune responses. A successful safety trial was necessary to move forward with extensive clinical research. The research was first presented in late October by South African scientists in Cape Town. Clinical trials of a modified vaccine tailored to Southern Africa will begin in early 2015.
Southern Africa desperately needs such a vaccine. Sub-Saharan Africa is home to two-thirds of all people living with HIV/AIDS and the main driver is unprotected heterosexual sex, according to the Joint United-Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, or UNAIDS. South Africa has the unfortunate distinction of claiming the world’s highest HIV/AIDS burden, with an estimated 6.3 million people living with HIV/AIDS. New infections, called seroconversions, are increasing at about 370,000 per year in that region. That’s about 1,000 new infections every day. About 20 percent of South African adults—that’s one in five people—are living with the virus, reports UNAIDS. Young women are twice as likely to be infected as young men.
HIV R4P 2014 Cape Town was the world's first and only scientific meeting dedicated exclusively to biomedical HIV prevention research.
HIVR4P and the international media fellowship were sponsored by an international consortium that has pooled resources to "speed the development of a safe and effective HIV vaccine." The consortium includes the USA, Thailand and South African governments, the European Union, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, UNAIDS, World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Controls and Prevention, GlaxoSmithKline, the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative, Merck, Novartis, USAID, Sanofi Pasteur, the largest company in the world devoted to vaccine development.
Just wrapping up several reporting trips to Cape Town, Johannesburg, Ethiopia and Kenya. Have had a few problems with technology and did not want to publish R20 from certain countries. Also: Just needed some time to relax, rest recharge and focus on my work and writing. Sometime you just need some "me" time.
Will slowly resume posting at R20 this week. I'd like to re-establish a regular schedule but also need some flexibility. And many thanks and hugs to the many folks who checked in.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation will investigate the fatal shooting by police of 18-year-old Michael Brown in suburban St. Louis, according to a statement by Attorney General Eric Holder released by the Justice Department.
Meanwhile: The St. Louis metropolitan region has been rocked by three days of protests after the unarmed, Black teenager was killed by a Ferguson police officer on Saturday, August 9. "Officials have so far declined to identify the police officer who shot Mr. Brown or disclose his race. The officer was put on administrative leave," reports The New York Times.
On Monday night, police officers using tear gas and rubber bullets tried to disperse the crowd of mostly African-Americans, who had been gathering through the day under the hot sun. The protesters questioned the role that race — and simmering tensions between residents and the Police Department — may have played in the killing of Michael Brown, 18, who was to start college this week.
The standoff lasted for more than an hour, with about a dozen men approaching officers with their hands up saying, “Don’t shoot me.” At least 100 police officers were on the scene, shining bright lights into the crowd and telling people to return to their homes.
The population of Ferguson has changed dramatically ... but the suburb's power structure has not.
Ferguson, a city of 21,000 northwest of St. Louis, has shifted substantially over the last decade, with blacks, once a minority, now making up two-thirds of the residents, after many white families moved out to surrounding suburbs. The town’s leadership and the police have remained predominantly white. In 2013, the suspension of a black superintendent of schools by an all-white school board stirred protests. And the Justice Department has a continuing investigation into racial disparities in legal representation for juveniles in Family Court.
The police maintain the unarmed teenager struck a police officer and tried to grab the officer's gun. Numerous witnesses have disputed the official account and describe an execution, reports ColorLines.
Dorian Johnson was walking down the middle of the street in Ferguson, Missouri, with his friend Michael Brown on Saturday—just moments before Brown was shot and killed by a still unnamed police officer. Johnson says that police officer began cursing at them and emerged from the car with his weapon drawn. He says he remembers no fewer than seven shots fired. He recalls that Brown’s hands were in the air as the officer fired.
Johnson has told several media outlets that Brown did not strike the officer. Johnson says the officer grabbed Brown by the throat and then unloaded his weapon.
A second eyewitness also disputes the official claim. "The witness 'did not see Michael Brown struggling with the police officer inside his car at any point,' [said St. Louis NAACP President Adolphus Pruitt]. "They did witness the incident from the time it started from the time of the initial stop by the police car," reports the St. Louis Post Dispatch. The FBI will soon interview this new witness, according to reports.
Oscar Grant, Eric Garner, Amadou Diallo, Kimani Gray, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Renisha McBride, Jordan Davis ... Keep moving, folks. Same story, different day. Nothing to see here except an unarmed Black person hunted like an animal and brutally killed.
Haaay! Returned stateside on Sunday. Trying to get some much-needed rest and reorient myself on American time after the exhausting 15 hour flight and 15 hour time difference. But first: Join me on Philadelphia's WURD-AM tonight at 6P/ET on "The Nick Taliaferro Show". We will discuss some of the leading research, news and developments at AIDS 2014 Melbourne.
Spotted on numerous hand cards, posters and billboards throughout the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre ... and at tram strops across the city. The model for the Victoria AIDS Council gets perfect tenz across the board.
The view looking toward Melbourne's historic Flinders Street Station. Across the street is Federation Square. I'm in Australia to report from AIDS 2014 Melbourne. The trip is funded by an international media fellowship from AIDS 2014 and the International AIDS Society. Very excited to be here because it is my first time in Australia ... but my heart is very heavy because some delegates did not complete their journey to the conference. There is a very subdued and reflective mood among many delegates in the aftermath of the tragic end to Malaysian Airlines Flight 17.
In the United States, about 1.1 million people are HIV positive, and nearly 50,000 people contract the virus each year—with African Americans and Latinos disproportionately affected. Men who have sex with men—especially those of color—have among the highest infection rates across the globe. Millions of lives have been saved since the introduction of effective antiretroviral treatment in 1996—but there are still many negative beliefs, biases, stigmas and fears surrounding people who are positive. Many experts believe that stigma is a major driver in perpertuating the epidemic.
"Stemming Stigma" is my latest article and one of two cover stories for the July/August 2014 issue of POZ.
New HIV cases among men who have sex with men are increasing as they flatten or even fall among other groups. Advocates blame HIV stigma among MSM, which they claim has created a "viral divide."This divide is probably the most evident on social networking apps and hookup sites. Phrases such as “DDF UB2” (short for “drug and disease free, you be too”) and questions such as “Are you clean?” have become commonplace. Many HIV-positive gay men note anecdotally that when they challenge HIV-negative men about such language (“Does having HIV make me ‘unclean’?”) the responses are often filled with contempt.
Additional surveys have shown stigma remains a significant barrier to care and treatment. A 2009 Lambda Legal study shows that 63 percent of HIV-positive LGBT people experienced discrimination from health care professionals. Other times, the stigma keeps people from even seeking medical care.
"Let’s say you’re a black gay man living in a community of lower socioeconomic status," says Terrance Moore, director of health policy at the National Alliance of State & Territorial AIDS Directors (NASTAD). "You could be very concerned that someone is going to see you walk into an HIV testing facility, so you may not access that test." Similarly, you might not want to be seen taking meds, so you skip doses—which can increase your viral load and the risk of transmitting HIV.