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Also In Global Health News: U.N. Investigates DRC Rape Allegations; HIV Aid To Botswana; HIV Discrimination In Nigeria; Circumcision In Kenya; Testing Cancer Drugs For HIV

U.N. Sends Top Aides To Investigate Alleged Mass Rapes In DRC

“The United Nations is investigating claims that rebel fighters raped more than 150 women and baby boys in the Democratic Republic of Congo,” the BBC reports. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon is “sending two top aides” to the country and “also urged the Congolese government to investigate the attacks.” The two representatives are Atul Khare, assistant secretary-general for peacekeeping and Margot Wallstrom, special representative for sexual violence in conflict (8/24). According to Reuters, a “statement issued by his office said Ban was outraged by the attack, and ‘given the seriousness of the incident’ had decided to immediately dispatch” the aides (Worsnip, 8/24). The New York Times notes that Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton “visited eastern Congo in 2009 to raise awareness about widespread rape in the region, calling it “evil in its basest form,” and at the time the United States pledged $17 million to the Congolese government to fight sexual violence” (Kron, 8/23).

Merck, Gates Foundation Commit Additional $60M To HIV/AIDS Programs In Botswana

Merck on Tuesday announced that the company together with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation would commit “another $60 million toward Botswana’s African Comprehensive HIV/AIDS Partnerships, a private-public partnership aimed at treatment and prevention of HIV,” Dow Jones Newswires reports. “The move puts the cash contributions from Merck’s foundation and the Gates’s charitable efforts to $166.5 million. The drug giant said it will continue to donate HIV medicines,” the news service adds (Kingsbury, 8/24). “The new funding will continue the program’s original efforts in treatment and care but also will support the second phase initiatives to meet the current treatment needs of the 137,000 Batswana (people from Botswana) living with HIV and new patients enrolled in the second phase,” according to a Merck press release. “The second phase initiatives include: the prevention of HIV, the critical need to treat people living with HIV for tuberculosis (TB) and the sustainability of the program to allow Botswana to successfully address HIV/AIDS within its own borders” (8/24).

Nigerian Stakeholders Call For HIV Anti-Discrimination Laws

Nigerian stakeholders “called on the national and state assemblies to pass laws prohibiting such bias on grounds of health status,” the country’s Guardian newspaper reports. The stakeholders spoke at the launch of a “nationwide project aimed at putting an end to all discrimination” against people living with HIV/AIDS (PLWHA). The Guardian notes that five Nigerian states currently have HIV anti-discrimination laws. “The right to health of person living with HIV/AIDS is undermined by discrimination and stigmatisation. Fear of being identified with HIV/AIDS remains a major reason discouraging PLWHA from voluntarily seeking counseling, testing or treating,” said Ray Onyegu, executive director of the Socioeconomic Rights Initiative. The other organizations were Plantation Positive Youth and the Forum and Neighbourhood Health Foundation (Ukwuoma, 8/24).

Kenya Health Service To Encourage Circumcision In Health Facilities

This year, many Kenyan communities will circumcise boys as a rite of passage, including the Bukusu community which “plans to circumcise about 20,000 young boys in traditional ceremonies – without the assistance of trained medical staff or even properly sterilised equipment,” Inter Press Service writes. Nicholas Muraguri, who heads the nation’s AIDS/STD Control Programme “says out of the total young men to be circumcised, statistics indicate that 40 percent will end up with complications, some of which will be life-threatening and could lead to death.” Muraguri also said instances where one knife is used to circumcise multiple boys could lead to increased risk of HIV transmission, and he discussed how his department is promoting “health facility-based circumcision” (Anyangu-Amu, 8/24).

In Lab Experiment, Two Cancer Drugs Successfully Stop HIV

In lab experiments, “University of Minnesota researchers say they have found a potential new treatment for HIV, using a mixture of two anti-cancer drugs that are already on the market,” Star Tribune reports. In the lab, drugs gemcitabine and decitabine were “able to stop the AIDS virus by causing it to ‘mutate itself to death,’ the researchers said.” While the idea has not been tested on humans, “researchers say the study is encouraging because it’s a new way of attacking the virus and because the drugs are not experimental – they’ve already been approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for treating other diseases.” The Star Tribune noted, however, that researchers “won’t be ready to study the treatment in people for some time; the researchers are still testing it in animals and have yet to develop a pill form of the medications, which are normally given by injection” (Lerner 8/23).