MorganRants

Things I am passionate about. Injustice, stupidity, intolerance, bigotry and small-mindedness. Oh and there might just be some humor to offset the whole thing.

Archive for the ‘AIDS’ Category

AIDS virus leapt the species barrier early last century: study

Posted by morganwrites on October 7, 2008

The AIDS virus, previously thought to have been transmitted from chimps to humans in the 1930s, may have leapt the species barrier more than a century ago in west-central Africa, scientists said on Wednesday. Analysis of tissues preserved by doctors in the colonial-era Belgian Congo shows that the most pervasive strain of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) began spreading among humans at some point between 1884 and 1924.

“The diversification of HIV-1 in west-central Africa occurred long before the recognised AIDS pandemic,” they announced in the British-based science journal Nature.

AIDS first came to public notice in 1981, when alert US doctors noted an unusual cluster of deaths among young homosexuals in California and New York.

It has since killed at least 25 million people, and 33 million others are living with the disease or HIV, the virus that causes AIDS by destroying immune cells.

Epidemiologists trying to date the history of HIV have until now been limited to only one laboratory source that long precedes the detected start of the outbreak.

This is a now-legendary blood sample called ZR59, which was taken in 1959 from a patient in Leopoldville, now Kinshasa, then capital of the Belgian Congo, now the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

HIV is highly mutating virus, with as much as one percent of its genome diverging per year.

This rate of mutation gives rise to a measurement called a “molecular clock,” a timescale at which the HIV deviates from previous strains and from its animal ancestor, the simian immunodeficiency virus (SIV).

By this calculation, HIV began to spread among humans before 1940, according to ZR59’s genes.

Now, though, another precious piece of the jigsaw has emerged.

It is a piece of lymph node tissue that was taken for a biopsy from a woman in Kinshasa in 1960 and preserved in a bed of paraffin wax. It was found in the archives of the Anatomy Department at the University of Kinshasa.

An international team of sleuths pieced together the genetic sequence of the virus — the sub-group M of HIV-1 — and then compared telltale regions between ZR59 and the second sample, DRC60.

They found a significant divergence between the two genetic regions, and calculate that this gap must have taken around 40 years to evolve from a common viral ancestor.

In other words, the ancestral virus began to be transmitted among humans at the start of the century — the estimated range is between 1884 and 1924.

The virus spread only very slowly at first but got a vital foothold thanks to urbanisation during the colonial era, the authors speculate. It was transmitted through sex and then was taken further afield through commerce.

“The founding of and growth of colonial administrative and trading centres such as Kinshasa may have enabled the region to become the epicentre of the HIV/AIDS pandemic,” they suggest.

Kinshasa was founded in 1881, Brazzaville (capital of today’s Republic of Congo) in 1883 and Yaounde (Cameroun) in 1890, while Bangui (Central African Republic) was established in 1899.

All of these towns were founded before or at around the time that HIV-1 is believed to have entered the human population, the investigators note.

The growth of these towns was at first slow. Until 1910, not one of them had a population of more than 10,000 people.

There are several theories that seek to explain how SIV entered humans, the animal primates’ closest relative.

An infected chimpanzee bit a human, or a SIV-infected ape was butchered and sold for bushmeat, and the virus entered the bloodstream through tiny cuts in the hand, according to these hypotheses.

The new research was led by Michael Worobey of the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Arizona in Tucson.

Posted in AIDS, Uncategorized | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »

Global AIDS prevention gives short shrift to gays

Posted by morganwrites on September 12, 2008

MEXICO CITY, Mexico (AP) -Jorge Saavedra’s moment of truth came in the middle of an impassioned speech to 5,000 people about the paltry amount of money being spent to stop the spread of AIDS among gay men.

The Mexican federal official paused, then said publicly for the first time that he was gay.

As he held up a photo of himself with his partner, the crowd applauded wildly. Afterward, men from Africa and India congratulated him with tears in their eyes.

“They told me that I was a hero, and that they wished they could do the same in their countries,” said Saavedra, who is infected with HIV and also heads the AIDS prevention program in a country where many gay men live in denial.

Saavedra’s coming out on Tuesday at the International AIDS Conference sent a powerful message to the world: Homophobia must be stamped out if AIDS is to be controlled.

Fewer people are dying from AIDS, but new HIV infections among gay and bisexual men in many countries are rising at alarming rates.

Yet less than 1 percent of the $669 million reported in global prevention spending targets men who have sex with men, according to UNAIDS figures from 2006, the latest available data.

UNAIDS says these men receive the lowest coverage of HIV prevention services of any at-risk population. And experts say discrimination has driven gay and bisexual men in developing nations underground — turning them into one of the epidemic’s hardest groups to reach. From Mexico to India, a surprising number of men who have sex with men insist they are not gay, and in many countries, governments still refuse to admit homosexuality exists.

“It’s very difficult to provide services to men who have sex with men in countries that don’t acknowledge they exist or criminalize them if they do exist,” said Craig McClure, executive director of International AIDS Society, which organized the conference.

In 86 nations, homosexual sex is considered a crime, and in seven countries it is punishable by death, according to the Foundation for AIDS Research, known as Amfar.

During the conference’s inauguration, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urged nations “to follow Mexico’s bold example and pass laws against homophobia.”

In 2003, Mexico banned discrimination based on sexual orientation, and it has opened what it calls homophobic-free health clinics. The government has a national campaign that includes radio spots with mothers accepting their gay sons. Saavedra’s program has earmarked 10 percent of its $12 million budget toward prevention among gay and bisexual men.

Worldwide, few developing nations check the rates of HIV infection among men who have sex with men, but researchers who have surveyed some of these countries say they are finding the rates are nearly twice that of the general adult population.

“This fight needs to be driven by epidemiologists” who urge making this high-risk group a priority, not only for the human rights argument, but for the public health argument, said Chris Beyrer, director of the Center for Public Health and Human Rights at Johns Hopkins University. “It’s a virus so you need to put the money where the virus is.”

Gay and bisexual men are 19 times more likely to become infected with HIV than the general adult population, according to Amfar, which collected data on these men in 128 countries. In Mexico, this group is 109 times more likely to acquire HIV. To date, 57 percent of the HIV diagnoses in Mexico are from unprotected sex between men.

Thailand is seeing “an emerging epidemic of really unbelievable proportions” among its gay and bisexual men after being held up as an example for its success with a massive condom campaign that curbed HIV’s spread among sex workers, drug users and migrants, said Kevin Frost, Amfar’s chief executive officer.

Prevalence of HIV among gay and bisexual Thai men was more than 15 percent this year compared to 1.4 percent for the general adult population, according to Amfar. Frost said the country’s prevention programs ignored one of its most vulnerable groups.

“These men believed they were not at risk because they were not having sex with sex workers or women, which is what the campaign focused on,” Frost said. “That scenario is being played out across the developing world.”

Complicating matters is that in countries from Latin America to Southeast Asia, many men who have sex with men, insist they are not gay. More than 30 percent of Latin American men who reported having sex with men said they also had unprotected sex with women, according to UNAIDS. Many are married.

“Everybody knows somebody like that,” Saavedra, 48, said. “Instead of saying they are gay, it’s easier for them to justify their behavior. They say they were drunk and they were really sexually excited and willing to have sex with whomever.”

Some have beaten up transvestites after having sex with them because they are ashamed of themselves, experts say.

Even governments deny these men exist. Last year, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said at Columbia University in New York, “In Iran we don’t have homosexuals like in your country.”

In Malawi, that country’s first organization working on behalf of gay men was created in 2006 with the backing of World Bank officials and other international agencies.

Called the Centre for the Development of People, the group surveyed 100 gay men about discrimination to prove to the government that such men existed in Malawi. Homosexual sex is punishable up to 14 years in prison in the African country.

The organization also found through testing 200 gay men that about 21 percent carried HIV compared with 12 percent for the general adult population.

“This means that we are not moving ahead with the fight against AIDS,” said Gift Trapence, the organization’s director who has received e-mails threatening hanging.

AIDS activists say they avoid using words like “homosexual” or “gay” and instead use the label “men who have sex with men,” or MSM, so their work is not impeded by the stigma.

Ashok Row Kavi said he has learned the importance of carefully choosing his words in India, where he started one of the country’s first organizations to work with gay and bisexual men.

The Humsafar Trust found nearly 14 percent of the gay and bisexual men it surveyed in 1999 were infected with HIV. Kavi said when he told India’s AIDS officials they “totally panicked because until now they believed these men did not exist.”

But last year they added a definition of men who have sex with men to their health planning program to start prevention campaigns. The definition includes married men.

Kavi has been training health workers how to ask men if they have had gay sex and not scare them away.

“I tell them to say things like, ‘There are many cultures where men are very close to men. Are you one of these men?'” he said. “These questions have to be sensitive,” especially in India, where sodomy is illegal.

“That’s why the word homosexual is not used,” he said. “If anyone asks a man that, he will slap you.”

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Vaccine Failure Is Setback in AIDS Fight

Posted by morganwrites on March 29, 2008

Test Subjects May Have Been Put at Extra Risk Of Contracting HIV

(WP) – The two-decade search for an AIDS vaccine is in crisis after two field tests of the most promising contender not only did not protect people from the virus but may actually have put them at increased risk of becoming infected.

The results of the trials, which enrolled volunteers on four continents, have spurred intense scientific inquiry and unprecedented soul-searching as researchers try to make sense of what happened and assess whether they should have seen it coming.

Both field tests were halted last September, and seven other trials of similarly designed AIDS vaccines have either been stopped or put off indefinitely. Some may be modified and others canceled outright.

Numerous experts are questioning both the scientific premises and the overall strategy of the nearly $500 million in AIDS vaccine research funded annually by the U.S. government.

“This is on the same level of catastrophe as the Challenger disaster” that destroyed a NASA space shuttle, said Robert Gallo, co-discoverer of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which causes AIDS, and head of the Institute for Human Virology in Baltimore.

The recently closed studies, STEP and Phambili, used the same vaccine — made from a common respiratory virus called adenovirus type 5 that had been crippled and then loaded with fragments of HIV. Both studies were halted when it became clear the STEP study was futile and possibly harmful.

The results of the Phambili vaccine trial, which was conducted in South Africa, were revealed last month and only worsened the gloom. Although the number of new HIV infections in that study was far smaller than in STEP — and too few to draw firm conclusions from — those results, too, hinted at a trend toward harm among vaccine recipients.

Many researchers are questioning the scientific premises on which all those studies were based and are wondering, along with AIDS activists, what effect this near-worst-case scenario might have on tests of future vaccines.

The working hypothesis for what went wrong is that the vaccine somehow primed the immune system to be more susceptible to HIV infection — a scenario neither foreseen nor suggested by previous studies.

The National Institutes of Health, which funded the STEP and Phambili trials, is convening a meeting next week to reassess its AIDS vaccine program. But some respected scientists have already reached a verdict.

“None of the products currently in the pipeline has any reasonable chance of being effective in field trials,” Ronald C. Desrosiers, a molecular geneticist at Harvard University, declared last month at an AIDS conference in Boston. “We simply do not know at the present time how to design a vaccine that will be effective against HIV.”

He told a rapt audience that he has reluctantly concluded that the NIH has “lost its way in the vaccine arena” and that he thinks it should redirect its AIDS vaccine funds to basic research and away from human trials.

In this fiscal year, the NIH’s budget for AIDS vaccine research is $497 million. The STEP and Phambili trials were each expected to cost about $32 million. Pharmaceutical giant Merck & Co. has spent an undisclosed amount developing the vaccine and helping to manage the studies.

“We can’t afford to have any more trials like this,” said Mark Harrington, head of the activist Treatment Action Group and a longtime observer of AIDS research. “We have to stop and reassess and recommit to basic science, or people will begin to lose faith.”

At the moment, only two things are certain.

The first is that the vaccine, developed by Merck, could not have caused HIV infection because it contains only three proteins from HIV, not the entire virus. The second is that there are no obvious villains.

“I do not think that what happened in this trial is an example of scientists blindly rushing into dangerous things,” said John P. Moore, an AIDS virologist at Weill Cornell Medical College, who has criticized vaccine trials he considered futile. “In the general HIV-research community, I didn’t know anyone who said this was going to happen.”

Both trials recruited people who were at high risk of HIV infection through sexual activity. The STEP subjects included many male homosexuals; the Phambili volunteers were male and female heterosexuals. Half the people in each trial were randomly assigned to get three shots of vaccine, and half to get three shots of a harmless liquid containing no adenovirus or HIV proteins.

Each trial was to have 3,000 participants. STEP had finished enrolling subjects in North and South America, the Caribbean and Australia. Phambili (which means “moving forward” in the Xhosa language of South Africa) had signed up 801 by the time it was shut down.

While scientists hoped the Merck vaccine might prevent some infections, its chief purpose was to stimulate “cell-mediated” immunity to produce a less severe illness. Specifically, the vaccine was expected to lower the “viral load” of HIV in the bloodstream, which in turn would both prolong survival and lessen the chance the person would infect others.

Many experts are questioning the wisdom of that strategy, even if it had worked perfectly. Urging millions of people to take an AIDS vaccine that probably would not protect them from the virus, they say, would be a hard and confusing task, even in places where the epidemic still rages.

For the moment, that is an academic question. The vaccine failed to achieve any of its goals.

In both studies, people who got vaccine were more likely — not less — to become infected, with trends suggesting roughly a twofold risk. In the STEP study, which has many more cases to evaluate, nearly all that added risk was in people who had high levels of antibodies to adenovirus type 5 before they got their first shot — evidence they had been previously infected with that strain. Uncircumcised men in that group had the highest risk.

So how could this have happened?

The leading theory is that activation of the immune system, a cascade of events that occurs naturally when a person is infected with a virus or bacterium or gets a vaccine against one of them, in some way increased the risk of HIV infection.

Activation causes cells called CD4 T-lymphocytes (among many other things) to proliferate. CD4 cells are the targets of choice for HIV. In their activated state, they are coated with molecules called CCR5 co-receptors, which HIV needs to attach itself to a cell.

The hypothesis is that people who received the vaccine had greater-than-normal activation and consequently produced more and fatter cellular targets for HIV. That then increased their chances of becoming infected should they encounter the virus in unprotected intercourse.

Two things undercut this idea.

People have been suffering immune-activating infections and getting vaccines for years, and there has never been evidence that those events increased a person’s risk of acquiring HIV. These vaccine trials would be odd places to first notice such a thing. Furthermore, people in the STEP study who got the vaccine did not have more activated CD4 cells than people who got placebo — something that Merck vaccine executive Mark B. Feinberg called “kind of an interesting and unexplained observation.”

“There is something very, very peculiar” going on in the vaccine trials, said Anthony S. Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which sponsored them.

The multiple surprises have reminded researchers how much they still do not know about HIV’s biology. It has also focused attention on questions they never asked.

For example, none of the monkey experiments with the Merck vaccine subjected animals to the kind of sexual exposure that people in the trial had — namely, repeated encounters with low doses of HIV, with no single exposure being especially high-risk.

Why not?

The researchers did not have any reason to believe the vaccine might be harmful (although they acknowledged it might not be effective), and in any case such a study would have required quite a large number of monkeys, which are expensive to acquire and maintain for research.

Instead, researchers vaccinated a relatively small number of monkeys with the Merck vaccine and then injected them with the monkey equivalent of HIV in a manner that guaranteed they would become infected. Those animals did much better over the long run than infected but unvaccinated ones.

That was once enough to move a vaccine into human trials. But it probably never will be again.

Can anyone remember Tuskegee?

Posted in AIDS, HIV, Merck, NIH, Phambili, Robert Gallo is an asshole | Leave a Comment »

Pre-Chewed Baby Food Said to Transmit HIV

Posted by morganwrites on February 11, 2008

BOSTON, Mass. (NYT) — Researchers have identified another way that babies can be infected with H.I.V. — through food pre-chewed by an infected parent or caretaker.Although thousands of babies have been infected in the United States over the last 15 years, pre-chewed food has been documented as the cause of just three cases, federal epidemiologists said here Wednesday.

But such transmission may not be so rare, Dr. Kenneth L. Dominguez’s team from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at the 15th Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections.

Pre-chewing food apparently occurs among many groups in this country and elsewhere. So transmission of H.I.V., the AIDS virus, to infants may be an unrecognized problem in developing countries where dental care is lacking, commercially prepared baby foods and blenders are not available and parents and caretakers may need to soften foods, Dr. Dominguez said in an interview.

His team said there were several reasons for reporting the three cases, dating from 1993, for the first time. One was to make health care providers and caregivers of infected children aware of the potential risk of pre-chewing. Another was to ask doctors and family members to report suspected cases to health officials to quantify the threat.

Human immunodeficiency virus is present in saliva, but usually in amounts too low to cause transmission. So, presumably, blood, which has larger amounts of the virus, is also needed for transmission.

Infected chewers with inflammations or open mouth sores can pass the virus to infants through cuts or other common teething conditions, Dr. Dominguez said.

Although the three cases were among African-Americans born in the United States, pre-chewing is prevalent among many ethnic and racial groups, according to a recent national survey of infant feeding by the C.D.C., Dr. Dominguez said.

Specific findings from the survey have not been released.

“It’s likely that some cultural influences are involved, and I am sure that people are doing what their grandmothers and aunties did in practices carried through generations,” Dr. Dominguez said.

Epidemiologists from the centers, working with researchers at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis and the University of Miami, intensively investigated all three cases, ruling out other causes of transmission like breast feeding, sexual abuse and needle sticks.

The first two cases involved boys from Miami infected in the mid-’90s. One boy’s infection was detected when he was 39 months old, shortly before his death, after previously testing negative for the virus twice. The mother, who was infected, reported pre-chewing food for the boy.

The second boy’s mother was uninfected but lived with an infected aunt who pre-chewed his food. He survives. In the third case, a girl from Memphis was found to be infected in 2004 at 9 months old after testing negative for the virus three times. Her mother was infected and pre-chewed food for her daughter.

Genetic studies showed that the viruses isolated from the first and third cases matched those of the mother. The second case’s caregiver died before blood samples could be obtained. H.I.V. isolated from the caregiver’s infected male sexual partner did not match that from the boy.

Researchers will try to determine whether other dangerous microbes like hepatitis B virus and Helicobacter pylori might be transmitted through pre-chewed food.

In this day and age, after all the press on contamination, on safety, how could this possibly be?

Posted in African-Americans, AIDS, CDC, dental care, developing countries, Helicobacter pylori, hepatitis B, HIV, Infections, Miami, mouth sores, Retroviruses | Leave a Comment »

Lawsuit: Test Texas lawmaker for STDS

Posted by morganwrites on February 4, 2008

AP-A lawsuit against a state lawmaker claims he forcibly kissed a woman at a holiday party and demands he be tested for sexually transmitted diseases.Krysynthia Rido and her husband sued Friday in state district court, saying they fear AIDS and other diseases because Rido was exposed to Democratic state Rep. Borris Miles’ “unwanted bodily fluids.” She wants the court to order Miles to undergo blood tests for sexually transmitted diseases.

The suit also accuses Miles, 42, of assault and battery and asks for compensatory and punitive damages.

The Harris County District Attorney’s Office has been looking into a complaint that Miles entered a hotel ballroom without an invitation, confronted guests, displayed a pistol and forcibly kissed another man’s wife.

Messages left at Miles’ offices by The Associated Press were not immediately returned on Sunday.

Miles’ spokesman, Donald Fields, said in the Houston Chronicle’s Saturday online editions that Miles was not immediately available for comment because he was in Memorial Hospital with pneumonia.

The Ridos’ lawsuit contends Miles acted in a “depraved, unconscionable and reckless manner, leaving in his wake shame, embarrassment and mental trauma.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that some STDs can be transmitted orally. Its Web site says AIDS cannot be transmitted through casual kissing.

Posted in AIDS, Boris Miles, CDC, kiss, Krysynthia Rido, STDS | Leave a Comment »

Experts call for a rethinking of AIDS money

Posted by morganwrites on January 23, 2008

In the two decades since AIDS began sweeping the globe, it has often been labeled as the biggest threat to international health.

But with revised numbers downsizing the pandemic — along with an admission that AIDS peaked in the late 1990s — some AIDS experts are now wondering if it might be wise to shift some of the billions of dollars of AIDS money to basic health problems like clean water, family planning or diarrhea.

“If we look at the data objectively, we are spending too much on AIDS,” said Dr. Malcolm Potts, an AIDS expert at the University of California, Berkeley, who once worked with prostitutes on the front lines of the epidemic in Ghana.

Problems like malnutrition, pneumonia and malaria kill more children in Africa than AIDS.

“We are programmed to react quickly to small children with AIDS in distress,” Potts said. “Unfortunately, we don’t have that same reaction when looking at statistics that tell us what we should be spending on.”

The world invests about $8 billion to $10 billion in AIDS every year, more than 100 times what it spends on water projects in developing countries. Yet more than 2 billion people do not have access to adequate sanitation, and about 1 billion lack clean water.

In a recent series in the journal Lancet, experts wrote that more than one-third of child deaths and 11 percent of the total disease burden worldwide are due to mothers and children not getting enough to eat — or not getting enough nutritional food.

“We have a system in public health where the loudest voice gets the most money,” said Dr. Richard Horton, editor of Lancet. “AIDS has grossly distorted our limited budget.”

But some AIDS experts argue that cutting back on fighting HIV would be dangerous.

“We cannot let the pendulum swing back to a time when we didn’t spend a lot on AIDS,” said Dr. Kevin De Cock, director of the AIDS department at the World Health Organization. “We now have millions of people on treatment and we can’t just stop that.”

Still, De Cock once worked on AIDS projects in Kenya, his office just above a large slum.

“It did feel a bit peculiar to be investing so much money into anti-retrovirals while the people there were dealing with huge problems like water and sanitation,” De Cock said.

Part of the issue is advocacy, from celebrity ambassadors to red ribbons.

“No one is beating the drum for basic health problems,” said Daniel Halperin, an AIDS expert at Harvard University’s School of Public Health.

Aside from southern Africa, most of the continent has relatively low rates of HIV, and much higher rates of easily treatable diseases like diarrhea and respiratory illnesses. Yet much of the money from the West, especially from the United States, goes into AIDS.

Halperin recently wrote a commentary in The New York Times on the imbalance and said he was astounded by the response. Most were positive, he said, with many AIDS experts agreeing it was time to re-examine spending.

Most AIDS officials say the solution is to boost the budget for all of public health.

“Why does the public health budget have to be so limited?” asked Tom Coates, a professor of global AIDS research at the University of California, Los Angeles. “Let’s not drag AIDS care and prevention down to the level of every other disease, but let’s bring everything else up to the level of AIDS.”

That may be wishful thinking.

“At the end of the day, there are limits to how big the public health pie can be,” Halperin said.

Since the discovery of anti-retrovirals to fight HIV in the 1990s, AIDS has virtually become a chronic, treatable disease in the West. But the disease has not been conquered so easily in Africa. Not only are the AIDS drugs too expensive for most patients, but major problems in the health system need to be fixed first.

“It’s hard to get Western donors to listen,” said Dr. Richard Wamai, a Kenyan doctor at Harvard’s School of Public Health.

Wamai said that some African health systems are so weak they cannot absorb the donations, and AIDS drugs are sometimes left in warehouses because governments cannot distribute them.

Still, “trying to redirect AIDS money will take a long time,” Wamai said. “It’s a bit like trying to stop an ocean liner.”

I remember when we had eradicated several diseases – and then promptly forgot about them until they resurfaced. The saddest thing was that the new doctors couldn’t diagnose these resurgent diseases – whereas older, seasoned doctors could – most times without running any tests. The point is – are we pulling the plug too soon on HIV/AIDS programs that are sorely needed – and why are pharmas concerned with ‘diseases/conditions’ that should take a back seat to the discovering of a cure for people who have HIV/AIDS – many because of no fault of their own, like blood transfusions, unknowingly having sexual intercourse with partners who did (for the most part) or didn’t (a minority)?

MorganLighter

Posted in AIDS, children, Daniel Halperin, Dr. Kevin De Cock, Dr. Malcom Potts, Dr. Richard Horton, Dr. Richard Wamai, Ghana, Harvard University School of Public Health, Kenya, Lancet, malaria, malnutrition, pandemic, pneumonia, The New York Timses, Tom Coates, University of California Berkley, University of California Los Angeles, WHO | Leave a Comment »

Let’s all go to the (sex) fair!

Posted by morganwrites on October 8, 2007

Johannesburg (Reuters) – South Africans queued to learn about sex toys and pole-dancing this weekend, at the first sex fair ever held in a country founded by conservative Christians and still home to many sexual taboos.

The exhibition, modeled on a show running in Australia since 1996, would have been unthinkable 15 years ago when South Africa was still ruled by Afrikaners, the white descendants of the original, largely Puritan Dutch and French settlers.

During the apartheid era, customs officials not only confiscated pornography brought from abroad by travelers, but sometimes detained those trying to import it. Strip clubs did not exist and handcuffs, though abundant, were not fur-lined.

The end of white minority rule in 1994 and the establishment of a new constitution – generally considered one of the most liberal in the world – unleashed a torrent of hard-core porn. Sex shops and strip clubs blossomed.

Although authorities tolerate the lifestyle, it remains one that few South Africans openly discuss or admit to supporting.

Meanwhile, South Africa has one of the world’s worst AIDS epidemics.

An estimated 12 percent of its 47 million people are infected with HIV, most of them black. Sex is the main channel of transmission in a culture where male dominance is rarely challenged and promiscuity often tolerated.

Each day about 1,000 people die from AIDS and another 1,500 contract the virus.

Amid the racy lingerie, pornographic DVDs and exotic sex toys, the Johannesburg “Sexpo SA” made room for a handful of health advocacy groups to set up stands, including the LoveLife Trust, the national HIV prevention program for young people.

Silas Howarth, the 28 year-old South African who organized the exhibition, said around 40,000 people paid 89 rand (US $13.00) admission to the fair. He said there were plans to hold similar events in coming months in Durban and Cape Town.

I have nothing to say that would make any difference to South Africa’s insanity.

MorganLighter

Posted in AIDS, HIV, idiotic, stupid | Leave a Comment »