Posts Tagged ‘HIV/AIDS’

Published in the Guardian on August 15, 2012 .  Read the full article here.  An excerpt is pasted below.

Men travel up to four hours by bike to get circumcised in Zambia’s Central province. Zambia has become increasingly active in fighting HIV. Photo credit: Sarika Bansal

In Zambia‘s Central province, men have started cycling long distances to undergo a traditionally stigmatised procedure: circumcision. According to Fred Mbewe, who performs circumcisions at Nangoma Mission hospital, men bear the pain – both from the surgery and the bumpy bike ride the following day – to protect themselves against HIV.

Zambia has become active in fighting HIV, largely because of the toll the disease has taken on the country, which has the sixth highest infection rate in the world, at 13.5%. It is estimated 200 Zambians become infected with the virus every day.

In addition to distributing condoms and sterile needles to prevent transmission, experts are turning to male circumcision as an HIV prevention strategy. According to some – though, importantly, not all – scientific studies, male circumcision can reduce female to male transmission by up to 60%. This means that the risk of a man contracting the disease from an HIV-positive woman decreases by more than half if he is circumcised. The procedure is relatively inexpensive, which is attractive for donors.

Continue reading here.


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Published in the Christian Science Monitor on August 9, 2012.  Read the full article here.  An excerpt is pasted below.

A Tasintha member models a necklace she created. Tasintha helps young women in Zambia learn trades from tailoring and catering to jewelrymaking, giving them a way out of the sex trade. Photo credit: Sarika Bansal

“I never thought I would become the woman I am today,” says Constance, as she slowly beaded a necklace. “I was a bad character before.”

Constance (a pseudonym), aged 24, speaks matter-of-factly about her teenage years as a sex worker on the streets of LusakaZambia. She entered the world through peer pressure and remained in it for several years. “I would see four, sometimes five clients a day,” she says. “It’s difficult unless you also do some drugs.”

Soon after Constance’s 18th birthday, in 2006, a representative from Tasintha visited the street where she would often pick up clients. Tasintha, which means “deep transformation” in the Chewa language, is a nonprofit organization that helps prostitutes reform their lives. The organization started in 1992 with the hope of curbing the HIV pandemic. Since then, it has touched the lives of more than 6,000 sex workers in four locations in Zambia.

The first step in Tasintha’s approach is recruitment. Volunteers – many of whom are reformed sex workers – visit the bars and streets where sex workers
often line up for clients on weekend nights.

Conversations start casually. “We don’t tell the girls that we don’t like what they are doing,” says Clotilda Phiri, the organization’s coordinator. “And you usually have to go back several times. Some of them can be quite nasty. Over time, some will start to tell you that they’re not happy.”

When Tasintha first approached Constance, she was skeptical but intrigued.Several days later, she decided to visit the office to find out more. She learned that Tasintha offers psychological counseling, spiritual healing, educational support, and practical trainings in a range of income-generating activities. International donors, including The Global Fund, provide anti-retroviral drugs to women living with HIV.

Continue reading here.

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Published in Forbes on September 28, 2011.  Read here or below.

A small group of enthusiastic gamers on a site called Foldit recently solved the structure of a protein found in an AIDS-like monkey virus. The structure had stumped scientists for over a decade; the gamers, incredibly, cracked it in less than three weeks.

Despite using advanced crystallography technology, scientists at the University of Washington kept encountering roadblocks while trying to discern the protein’s structure. This led them, in a self-proclaimed “last ditch effort”, to begin an online protein folding competition. They offered several potential molecular structures on Foldit’s 3-D interface, and then asked players to tweak them so that, just as in real life, they emitted the lowest possible energy. Within days, a group called The Contenders submitted an answer that fit the X-ray data almost perfectly. The scientists, in an article in Nature last week,proclaimed that this was “the first instance that we are aware of in which online gamers solved a longstanding scientific problem.”

This development has huge implications for the future of crowdsourcing, or of using large groups to perform tasks typically done by individuals. In this case, gamers applied critical reasoning and spatial intelligence to a problem traditionally dominated by subject matter experts. Seth Cooper, lead designer and developer of Foldit, said in an interview on MSNBC that the players’ lack of biochemistry backgrounds may have actually worked to their advantage. Unaware of traditional rules governing biochemistry, Foldit players were able “to be really creative and come up with a lot of different interesting solutions.”

Scientists may even be able to study the gamers’ unconventional folding techniques to improve existing crystallography software. Bradford Graves, a protein crystallographer at the pharmaceutical company Hoffmann-La Roche, believes this is at least as important a contribution gamers can make to science.

Before scientists start opening a suite of unsolved mysteries to gamers, however, there are several issues to keep in mind.

First and foremost, we must consider the value being generated through these crowdsourced molecules, and how that will eventually translate in monetary terms. Who owns the intellectual property on a collaborative, crowdsourced protein structure? Ben Sawyer, co-director of theSerious Games Initiative, warns that in the worst-case scenario, these puzzles could be “exploitative” to gamers who do not fully understand the financial value of their discoveries. This question will prove especially relevant in cases where a pharmaceutical drug is developed from a Foldit discovery (that is unlikely to be the case with the AIDS-like protein). Sawyer advises both Foldit and the scientific community to think carefully about what an optimal risk-reward ratio would look like.

We should also determine the audience for which a crowdsourced protein structure would be valuable. Many scientific groups, particularly in the pharmaceutical industry but also at the university level, tend to keep their work secretive. Sawyer asks, “How do you get people to solve [protein structures] without having your competitors also see it?” In such instances, open-source software could actually prove counter-productive. Bradford Graves contends that in addition to the secrecy issue, the pharmaceutical industry may see limited value because “the structure may not get you anything in and of itself; it’s what you do with it that really counts.” Given this, Foldit may see limited application to institutions focused on basic science.

Finally, we do not yet know if this concept can scale. If we open countless scientific puzzles to the general public, Foldit will also need scientists at the back end to evaluate the answers that come in. The only way games like Foldit will work is if you have a dedicated team to parse out the good molecular structures from the bad. In an ideal scenario, the scientists should also be able to give gamers feedback, thereby educating them in the process. It is yet to be determined if Foldit can develop the capacity to do this.

These caveats aside, Foldit is in many ways a game-changing (pun intended) concept. It provides a platform for gamers to interact, and potentially solve, pressing issues in the real world. Game designer Jane McGonigal said in a 2010 TED talk that most games today are played to escape from “real world suffering,” from “everything that’s broken in the real environment.” Serious games like Foldit show us that a meaningful bridge can in fact be created between the online gaming world and the real one.

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What characterizes the “New India” ? You know, the new breed of fashionable, educated, gently rebellious youth who earn their own money and often live in rented apartments? In terms of items this group consumes, I would say Cafe Coffee Day, Orkut, Ghajini-inspired caller tunes, Friends (oh sorry, F.R.I.E.N.D.S), chunky jewelry, iPod Nanos, Pink Floyd (for the engineering crowd at least)… and now, it seems that emergency contraceptives like Cipla’s iPill and Mankind Pharmaceutical’s Unwanted-72 can be added to the list.

(Note: For this post, I’ll focus on the iPill as opposed to Unwanted-72, though both companies appear to have similar philosophies) (more…)

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