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Also In Global Health News: IDUs In Kenya; Haiti Recovery; Pandemic Preparedness; Somalia Hunger; HIV In Mozambique; Strengthening Immune System Against HIV

Kenya Drafts Policy To Address HIV In IDUs

In Kenya, “[i]ntravenous drug users (IDUs) have been largely ignored by the government’s HIV programmes on the basis that drug-taking is illegal, but a new policy is being drafted with the aim of reducing HIV transmission among this high-risk group,” IRIN/PlusNews reports. The article includes comments from Nicholas Muraguri, head of the National AIDS and Sexually Transmitted Infections Control Programme, who said that the policy would treat drug use as a health issue, not a criminal one. “We want to provide needle exchange, methadone for treatment and condoms,” Muraguri said. The article notes PEPFAR “recently changed its policy of excluding needle exchange and opioid substitution therapy programmes from funding” and highlights a recent International AIDS Society report (.pdf) that “recommends expanding outreach to high-risk, hard-to-reach drug users and encouraging them to test for HIV” (8/24).

USAID Grants To Provide Food Vouchers, Work For Haiti

The Canadian Press reports on two USAID grants totaling $47.5 million that will enable “hundreds of thousands” of Haitians to obtain food and work. The first grant, $12.5 million awarded to Mercy Corps, will provide $40 food vouchers to “an estimated 100,000 households” each month through next March. The second, a $35 million grant to the World Food Programme (WFP), will allow the organization’s cash-for-work program to grow from 50,000 to 140,000 participants. The grant will pay Haitians in food and cash for “activities such as debris clearing, irrigation canal repair and drainage” (8/23).

Philippines ‘Not Adequately Prepared’ For Pandemic, Government Official Says 

The Philippines needs to beef up defenses against a pandemic, [Benito Ramos, executive director of the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC)] said, noting that a collective effort from the government and public is needed in such a crisis,” Business World reports. Ramos’ comments followed last week’s Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) pandemic flu response exercise, which, as he described, “made us [in the Philippines] realize that we are not adequately prepared for such a situation.” Ramos “said government agencies such as the Department of Health (DoH), Department of Education, Department of Agriculture and Department of Social Welfare and Development should be made aware of the possibility of a deadly pandemic before any multi-sectoral approach to deal with the problem can be created,” according to the news service (Melican, 8/24).

Despite Long Rainy Season Slashing Number Of Hungry In Somalia, FAO Says 2M In Country Still Need Food Aid

Strong rains have reduced the number of hungry people in Somalia by 25 percent, but 2 million people in the country still need food aid, according to a study published Monday by U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the Associated Press reports (8/23). The FAO “said that this year Somalia – which has an estimated population of 7.5 million – experienced a longer than usual rainy season … boosting agricultural and livestock production,” the U.N. News Centre writes. The article notes that the agency’s “latest findings are in contrast to last year’s figures, when about 42 percent of the population was in urgent need of help due to a prolonged drought that killed a lot of livestock and was exacerbated by high food prices and insecurity” (8/23).

“The current situation indicates an improvement, but with 27 percent of the population still in crisis, the needs remain very significant,” said Grainne Moloney, chief technical advisor at FAO’s Food Security and Nutrition Analysis Unit, Reuters reports. “And if the next rain season is poor, then the numbers in crisis will rise again,” according to Moloney (8/23).

PEPFAR To Provide $1B To Mozambique Over Five Years

The U.S. will “provide $1 billion over the next five years to help fight AIDS in Mozambique, where some 1.5 million people are living with HIV,” VOA News reports. The PEPFAR-backed partnership is “aimed at reducing new infections, strengthening Mozambique’s health system, and improving access to treatment for people infected with HIV, and those suffering from AIDS” as well as improving collaboration between government and aid groups. “Since PEPFAR began in 2003, U.S. funding of anti-AIDS programs in Mozambique has increased from $37.5 million in 2004 to around $250 million in 2009,” according the news service (8/23).

Scientists Look To Gene Therapy As Way To Boost Immune System Response To HIV

The Los Angeles Times reports on the recent efforts of scientists to use gene therapy to strengthen the ability of patients living with HIV to fight off the HIV virus. The article examines an ongoing project by a team of researchers in California who have developed a method of cutting “the crucial gene, CCR5, that normally lets HIV into the key immune cells it destroys” out of bone marrow stem cells. Without the gene, researchers believe that patients will be better prepared to fight off HIV.

“They tested the method using so-called humanized mice – ones engineered to have a human immune system … When stem cells were treated with the molecular scissors before being injected into mice, the resulting immune system lacked CCR5, exactly as the scientists had hoped,” the newspaper writes. As the researchers hypothesized, the mice “fought off the virus.” With $14.5 million from the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, the team of scientists is “working toward bringing the technique to clinical trials within four years,” the newspaper writes. The article includes comments by scientists involved with the project and others exploring gene therapy in HIV/AIDS research (Bernstein, 8/21).