AIDS 2014 – Plenty of slogans & new science but not enough money | 

downloadAt the world’s biggest AIDS meeting this week in Australia, one long-time activist and attendee sees lots of slogans and important new research findings but not nearly enough money to make use of either the potential new tools or the rallying lingo.

A new drug, Truvada, has been shown effective at preventing HIV infection and recently was endorsed by the World Health Organization for use by those most at risk of infection. Despite some disappointing news about efforts to come up with a cure for AIDS, scientists point to other research fronts, though less sexy than a cure, where progress is being made on the search for a vaccine, on treatments for preventing disease and spread of HIV.

“This is one of the most exciting times in terms of HIV science, but one of the worst of times economically,” said Mitchell Warren, executive director of AVAC (AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition, which despite the name works across all aspects of disease prevention), who spoke with Humanosphere by telephone from Melbourne where the International AIDS Society is holding its biannual meeting AIDS 2014.

At the last big AIDS confab, then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton vowed to help create an AIDS-free generation. Others spoke optimistically about the ‘end of AIDS’ as if the world is now at a tipping point, as if we are poised to end the pandemic.

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Rights Groups: no amnesty for Central African Republic atrocities | 

from the PK5 area in Bangui, Central African Republic under the protection of French troops and members of the Multinational Force of Central Africa. (Feb 2014)
from the PK5 area in Bangui, Central African Republic under the protection of French troops and members of the Multinational Force of Central Africa. (Feb 2014)
Rex Features via AP Images

Discussions are currently underway to bring to an end the year-long strife and fighting that has beset the Central African Republic. The hopes is that a peace settlement will be agreed upon and the country will be able to regain stability. So far, things have not gotten off to a good start. The talks were canceled today after the ex-rebel Seleka group was a no show. Moving forward on suspending fighting and disarming fighters are now on hold.

One concern going into the talks is over whether the people who committed some of the most heinous crimes will be given a pass as a part of the deal. Both Amnesty International and Human Rights watch say that such an amnesty should not be available to persons that committed serious crimes.

“Mediators and participants at the Brazzaville forum need to keep the thousands of victims in the Central African Republic and their desire for justice at the top of the agenda,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch, in a public statement. “Amnesty for those most responsible for crimes against humanity and other heinous crimes is simply not an option.”

A day later, Amnesty International released its own statement calling for no amnesties for war crimes.

“The Brazzaville peace talks must ensure that accountability for war crimes, crimes against humanity and other crimes under international law are at the heart of any discussion to bring peace in CAR. Individuals suspected of these crimes must not be allowed to use these peace talked to secure positions in the government that they may use to enjoy impunity,” said Netsanet Belay, Amnesty International’s Africa Director, Research and Advocacy.

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News in the Humansosphere: New peace talks kick off for Gaza and CAR | 

Secretary of State John Kerry visit to Israel May 23-24, 2013.
Secretary of State John Kerry visit to Israel May 23-24, 2013.
U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv

Ban Ki Moon, John Kerry in Cairo for Gaza Talks. ”[Kerry] will urge the militant Palestinian group to accept a cease-fire agreement offered by Egypt that would halt two weeks of fighting that has descended into war and killed at least 500 Palestinians and more than two-dozen Israelis. Kerry headed almost immediately into a meeting with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, where he announced the U.S. will send $47 million in humanitarian aid for tens of thousands of Palestinians who have fled their homes in Gaza to escape the violence.” (Houston Chronicle)

Over 150 delegates from all sides of the fighting in Central African Republic are represented at peace talks in Brazzaville Congo that started on Monday. Appeals for a ceasefire, however, were clearly not respected on the ground. There is not high hopes that these talks will succeed. “Central African Republic’s interim president appealed on Monday to Muslim Seleka rebels and ‘anti-balaka’ Christian militia to agree on a ceasefire at the start of talks in the neighbouring Congo Republic.The three-day forum in Brazzaville, mediated by Congolese President Denis Sassou Nguesso, aims to reach terms for a halt to hostilities and disarmament but will not address negotiations for a longer-term peace deal in the former French colony. (Reuters)


Religious leaders in Sierra Leone criticized the government’s handling of an Ebola outbreak that has killed 194 people in the West African country, saying a lack of information was prompting rural communities to shun medical help. (Reuters)

Mozambique is discussing with its foreign coal mining partners ways to help them ride out depressed markets but will not be offering special tax breaks to ease the pain, its mineral resources minister said. (Reuters)

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Echoes of 2011 Somali famine cause for concern, say aid groups | 

A woman holding her young malnourished baby queues for food at the Badbado camp for Internally Displaced Persons, July 2011.
A woman holding her young malnourished baby queues for food at the Badbado camp for Internally Displaced Persons, July 2011.

Prolonged conflict, drought and rising food prices are conspiring to put people in Somalia at risk of hunger, warn a coalition of aid groups. The nearly 20 groups issued a statement yesterday to rally support before things get worse and the issue potentially becomes a more serious problem, like the 2011 famine in Somalia.

“Though the number of afflicted has declined, Somali men, women and children still need more donor commitment to funding humanitarian assistance long term. Principles of International Humanitarian law need to be upheld by all parties to the conflict, ensuring unhindered humanitarian access to populations in need to avert this imminent humanitarian crisis,” said Degan Ali, executive director of Adeso, in the release.

An update from the Famine Early Warning System Network last week said that food prices are increasing in parts of southern Somalia due to trade disruptions caused by conflict in the region. Somalia has struggled with stability for more than two decades due to recurrent sectarian violence and a campaign carried out by the al-Qaeda affiliated militant Islamist group, Al Shabaab. Disruptions in food trade mean that there are places in Somalia where food supplies are increasingly becoming limited, thus leading to rising food prices. The price of red sorghum increased by 68% from March to June in Xudur. The price of other staple crops, such as maize, have increased over the same period of time.

The warning states that conflict-affected area are seeing increases more acutely than other parts of the country. This is further complicated by the 22,400 people who were fled their homes during May and June, due to fighting. Those displaced are not only away from home, but they have to pay more money to buy food than they did before. It adds up to a worrying food security situation for the region.

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News in the Humanosphere: International AIDS Conference Kicks Off in Melbourne | 


The mood was somber with news that at least 6 conference goers were killed in downed Malaysian Airlines, including a former president of the International AIDS Society. Previous reports of over 100 delegate-goers killed were incorrect. The conference will go-on. On Wednesday, Bill Clinton will give an address on Wednesday.“Other key events include, the plenary session on Monday 21 July with an address on the “Future of Science in the HIV Response” by Tony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases; Mark Dybul, Executive Director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, will speak on investment in the HIV response; Helen Clark, Administrator of United Nations Development Programme, will present the future of the HIV response in the post-2015 landscape; and Sean Strub, Writer, Activist, and Director of The Sero Project will moderate a debate on how new prevention technologies affect disclosure, prevention and stigma.” (

A Deadly Day in Gaza for Both Sides; Allegation of a Massacre…More than 400 people have been killed since the conflict began, including over 100 children. “More than 60 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers were killed as Israel shelled a Gaza neighborhood and battled militants on Sunday in the bloodiest fighting in a near two-week-old offensive. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas accused Israel of carrying out a massacre in Shejaia in the eastern suburbs of the city of Gaza and declared three days of mourning. Israel’s army said it was targeting militants from Gaza’s dominant Hamas group whom it alleged had fired rockets from Shejaia and built tunnels and command centers there. The army said it had warned locals two days earlier to leave.” ( Reuters)


Ebola virus in Sierra Leone is killing dozens by the week. Medical workers have responded by expanding a field hospital, taking extraordinary measures to contain infection. (NPR)

Three years after famine in Somalia killed a quarter of a million people in six months, aid agencies warned Sunday a new catastrophe is looming unless urgent aid arrives. (Yahoo)

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Eat insects to save the world: A chat with “Bug Chef” David Gordon | 

David Gordon cooking up a tarantula
David Gordon cooking up a tarantula
Joel Rogers

Future shock: Insects are almost certainly going to be a bigger part of your diet in the future. Present shock: Insects are already a part of your diet; you eat bugs, every day, by accident. Shocking fact: Bugs are healthier, for you and for the planet, than many, if not most, things Americans eat.

For those who may have missed the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization’s 2013 report Edible Insects: Future Prospects for Food and Feed Security, Humanosphere suggests instead reading David George Gordon’s newly revised The Eat-A-Bug Cookbook. With some 40 recipes for cooking up great snacks of crickets, grasshoppers, meal worms, spiders and other creepy crawlers, it’s a great way to dive into the world of Entomophagy.

Despite the Latinate term that makes bug-eating sound like some sort of disease, it is quite common around the world for people to consume insects. Only in the rich world, mostly the West actually, is this frowned upon with disgust. David (a Seattle writer Tom Paulson’s known for half his life!) likes to dig deep into issues that some might think are obscure, or even bizarre.

But this time, David is probably just ahead of the curve as an aficionado of entomophagy. As the UN report notes, we are heading toward a fundamental food crisis that can only be averted with some big changes in our dietary and food production practices.

As the world population grows to the expected 9 billion mark over the next few decades, we will be hard pressed (in terms of arable land, access to water and so on) to feed everyone if we continue to emphasize large mammals as our primary source of protein.

What’s needed, says David, is for the West and much of the developed world to learn from the of rest of the world the many benefits of eating bugs. It’s not as crazy as it sounds. David makes a great case for bug-eating on environmental, health and even moral grounds. And we talk about some of his favorite treats, like roasted wax worms! Yum.  So give a listen. It’s fun and fascinating.

And before we dive into the edible bugosphere, Tom and I discuss some of the week’s top news in the Humanosphere beginning with Tom Murphy’s post on the amount of money taken out of Africa illegitimately (through tax dodges, illegal harvesting of natural resources or just exploitative outsiders). We also note a very cool milestone, with PATH celebrating surpassing the 5 billion mark for distribution of a heat-sensitive vaccine vial label that has saved many lives.

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When disaster strikes, the private sector plays a role too | 

A Syrian refugee woman completing her shopping in Amman, Jordan, using food vouchers provided by WFP.
A Syrian refugee woman completing her shopping in Amman, Jordan, using food vouchers provided by WFP.

The international organizations that are the first to act when disaster strikes were called out last week by the UK branch of Doctors Without Borders. One group spared the criticism is the private sector. That is because, until recently, they were not really thought of as an important player.

That is changing. Companies like Ikea, Coca-Cola and Google are now a contributing to relief efforts following a crisis, and making a profit while at it. They are not only working with the relief groups on the ground, but on their own and with small businesses in different countries.

The involvement of business in humanitarian assistance is not all that new. Local businesses will sell food, water and other supplies in the wake of a disaster. However, nobody really knows how much the private sector is contributing. There is no comprehensive accounting in what happens, just case studies and anecdotes.

The growing involvement and the gap information warrants some attention, say Steven Zyck and Randolph Kent of the UK-based think tank the Overseas Development Institute.

“The private sector’s technical expertise and resources offer great opportunities to innovate and improve services, while humanitarian agencies continue to have leading insight into what types of aid are needed and how to reach people in remote communities,” said Zyck, based on a research he conducted with Kent.

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News in the Humanosphere: 100 AIDS Researchers and Activists among 298 Killed in MH17 Downing | 

Simon Boddy

This is absolutely tragic news for the entire global health community, in light of the deeply tragic news of the downing of MH17. “About 100 of the 298 people killed in the Malaysia Airlines crash were heading to Melbourne for a major AIDS conference, conference attendees have been told. Delegates at a pre-conference in Sydney were told on Friday morning that around 100 medical researchers, health workers and activists were on the plane that went down near the Russia-Ukraine border, including former International AIDS Society president Joep Lange…Organisers of the International AIDS Conference, due to begin in Melbourne on Sunday, have not released numbers, but did confirm expected attendees were among the dead.” (SMH)

Israel Launches Ground Invasion of Gaza…Meanwhile, four more children were killed in air strikes and journalists were told to evacuate a popular hotel. Earlier yesterday, Hamas ended a six hour humanitarian pause in the fighting. “Israel began a ground invasion into the Gaza Strip on Thursday night, saying it would target tunnels that infiltrate its territory after cease-fire talks failed to de-escalate the air war that has raged for 10 days. The military released a statement at 10:39 p.m. saying the goal of the operation was to “establish a reality in which Israeli residents can live in safety and security without continuous indiscriminate terror.” (NYT )


The Health Sector estimates that about 206,000 people in Darfur are unable to access health services due to the suspension of Red Cross activities and withdrawal of support to health facilities by NGOs. (OCHA)

The UN Security Council warned it is ready to consider “appropriate measures” against warring parties in South Sudan if they do not stop the violence in the world’s youngest nation and negotiate a transitional government. (Reuters)

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