New tools for conservation?
What’s the News: Maybe it’s you—or maybe it’s the dice. A technique that relies on concealing individual transgressions while revealing greater truths is letting biologists get to the bottom of South African farmers’ killing of leopards.
What’s the News: Researchers have embarked upon an experiment that, if not for the tragic circumstances of the African AIDS epidemic, might be familiar to many parents: paying kids to follow the rules. South African schoolchildren 13 years and older in the study could earn up to $400 if they manage to stay HIV-free for 24 months. In South Africa, which has the most HIV/AIDS-infected people of any country in the world, more than 17 percent of the population has HIV, with girls at especially high risk.
There was a big step forward this week in the struggle to contain the spread of HIV and AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa. Reporting on a three-year study in the journal Science, scientists at the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) say that a microbicidal gel reduced HIV infection rates in women who used it by 39 percent over the course of the study. It would be the first time such a gel has proven so effective.
The researchers gathered nearly 900 women for the study who were HIV-free but demographically at risk for infection. Half received the gel, half a similar-looking but inactive substance. Among those given the gel, a vaginally-administered substance that contained an antiretroviral medication called tenofovir, infection rate fell by half after a year, and were reduced by 39 percent over two and a half years.
“This is very encouraging,” said Dr. Michel Sidibe, executive director of Unaids, the United Nations AIDS-fighting agency. “It can be controlled by women, and put in 12 hours earlier, and that is empowering. They do not have to ask the man for permission to use it. And the cost of the gel is not high” [The New York Times].
This week, South African health minister Barbara Hogan got her country up to speed with the rest of the world with one statement: “We know that HIV causes AIDS” [Time]. The country’s new health minister has been in office for less than a month, but she has already broken with the health policies of the previous government, which questioned the scientific consensus on HIV and AIDS, and discouraged the use of life-saving AIDS drugs.
Her pronouncement at an international AIDS vaccine conference marked the official end to 10 years of denial about the link between HIV and AIDS by former President Thabo Mbeki and his health minister Manto Tshabalala-Msimang. Activists also accused Tshabalala-Msimang of spreading confusion about AIDS through her public mistrust of antiretroviral medicines and promotion of nutritional remedies such as garlic, beetroot, lemon, olive oil and the African potato [AP]. Tshabalala-Msimang earned the nickname “Dr. Beetroot” from frustrated activists for her recommendations.