Laws of Men: For women in South Africa, HIV stigma still runs strong

CAPE TOWN, South Africa — Yvette Raphael left the medical clinic in Midrand, Johannesburg with one thought running through her mind.

She wanted to be dead.

She couldn’t face her baby, she thought. She couldn’t face her sister. She couldn’t face her mother. Her startling HIV diagnosis haunting her every thought, Yvette stepped into the street at the bottom of a hill, right into oncoming traffic.

“At the time, AIDS deaths were described as very painful, very long suffering —everyone would know what’s wrong with you,” Yvette said.  “I thought it would take three months for me to be dead.”

In what she now counts as one of the luckiest moments of her life, the taxi coming down the hill slammed on its brakes, stopping right in front of her. The driver took her bag, found her diary with her address in it, and drove her home.

As Yvette, 39, recalls that day 15 years ago when she found out she was HIV positive, she looks healthy and bright like the yellow patterned dress she is wearing. She had come to Cape Town from her home of Johannesburg to take part in the first-ever HIV Research for Prevention Conference, convening researchers, academics and activists to discuss breakthroughs and challenges in the field of HIV prevention.

Read more on Public Radio International


Scientists call for more African-led research and development

CAPE TOWN, South Africa  — A rising call for African-led research has permeated Cape Town this week as HIV researchers and scientists from around the world flooded the city for the first HIV Research for Prevention Conference.

As we move toward an AIDS-free generation, experts say, research should be growing in the places that bear the biggest burden of the disease. Grace Naledi Mandisa Pandor, South Africa’s minister of science and technology, announced at the conference’s opening, “We want customers. We don’t want to be anyone’s client any longer.”

This sentiment was indeed reflected here at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, where nearly 40 percent of the conference’s 1,313 delegates came from Africa and about 30 percent of the research studies presented came from African institutions and investigators.


How poetry saved two young women’s lives — one in Peru, one in Los Angeles

NEW YORK — Poetry changed Senna’s life.

She wrote her first poem at age 10, she said, because “I could tell my notebook what I wanted to say. … I imagined that my book and my notebook told me, ‘You can do it! You can do it!’”

Unbenounced to her, halfway across the world, someone else was writing poetry for the same reason.

“I started to write because the paper was the only person I could talk to,” said Marquesha Babers, 18, from Los Angeles. “Poetry has actually saved my life.”


How gender bias hides itself in the global health field

WASHINGTON — On day three of the annual meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene in Washington, DC, I waited for a much-needed cup of coffee behind a trio of attendees deliberating their next move.

The conference gathered 3,600 doctors and public health professionals from some 100 countries to discuss the newest developments in tropical medicine and global health. I was invited to present about global health and the media, and stayed on an extra day to attend some sessions and report.

One member of the trio suggested to his colleagues that they head across the street for breakfast, and his female colleague flipped through the schedule read aloud the title of the session she would miss that morning: “Promoting Women Leaders in Global Health.”

She looked up with a bored expression and said, “No, thank you.”


How the media failed to predict the next pope

BOSTON — Like most newsrooms, GlobalPost covered yesterday’s announcement of a new pope as the story broke, frantically receiving calls and posts from our correspondent in Rome, updating our live blog and readying profiles of the supposed frontrunners. But when the new leader of the Catholic Church stepped onto that balcony, we were surprised at the pick.

In the days leading up to the selection, we had profiled Cardinal Odilo Scherer from Brazil, and Cardinal Francis Arinze from Nigeria. We were ready to publish on Italy’s Cardinal Angelo Scola. But Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio was not really on our radar.


In AIDS fight, is it the beginning of the end?

BOSTON — Over the last year, something big changed in the fight against AIDS. The world started talking about the beginning of the end of the disease on a global scale.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton began this conversation when she took the stage at the National Institutes of Health in November 2011 and declared, “Our efforts have helped set the stage for a historic opportunity, one that the world has today: to change the course of this pandemic and usher in an AIDS-free generation.”

This hope for an “AIDS-free generation” became a mantra for the International AIDS Conference held in Washington, DC in July, the first time it had been held on American soil in 22 years.

“Many of the people at the conference, and also the media and people following the conference, took to the idea,” said Chris Collins, vice president and director of public policy at amfAR, an AIDS research foundation. “I think the tremendous hope that the conference communicated to people has really become a challenge.”


PrEP debate is reminiscent of the past

WASHINGTON, DC—During the 1996 International AIDS Conference in Vancouver, Dr. David Ho announced that HIV could be suppressed to undetectable levels if patients took a “cocktail” of anti-retroviral drugs.

Time Magazine named him “man of the year,” and according to Rolling Stone, he became the most famous AIDS scientist in the world.

But in the years that followed, ARV distribution was also met with criticism, said Mitchell Warren, director of AVAC, a non-profit that advocates for HIV prevention programs.

“People said we can’t do treatment,” Warren said. “Too expensive. Not feasible. No one’s going to take their pill. What about drug resistance?”

For those who have attended sessions about pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) this week at the 2012 International AIDS conference, this might sound familiar.


News to Latin America: is anyone watching?

News anchor Elaine Reyes stood behind a sleek podium in the middle of a brand new set. The cameras began to roll, and she announced to her viewers that they were about travel south.

“This week we begin a journey, exploring the Americas,” she said. “As the world gets smaller, “Americas Now” hopes to make these global connections through our reporting in interesting and engaging ways.”

This was the world’s introduction to “Americas Now,” produced by one of the newest branches of the state-funded global China Network Television—CCTV America. Launched just two and a half months ago, on February 12, “Americas Now” is a weekly broadcast news magazine focused on Central and South America. In its first nine episodes, the show discussed topics ranging from Cuban healthcare, to potato research in Peru, to the rise of women’s wrestling in Mexico.

It’s a perplexing combination: a half-hour show, all in English, dealing with Latin America, broadcast on China state television in China and the United States. According to Jim Laurie, CCTV America’s executive consultant, distribution in Latin America is limited, because CCTV America is in English.


In Ecuador, a social media workaround

For three years, Ecuadorean journalist Lindon Sanmartín Rodriguez and his brother Pablo hosted a freewheeling talk radio show that analyzed the economy, wrestled with religious issues, and criticized the government of President Rafael Correa.

They called it Digálo con Libertad, meaning Say it with Freedom. But in late 2010, the Sanmartín brothers were suddenly no longer allowed to say much of anything with freedom. Radio Satélital, the privately owned radio station they worked for in their hometown of Loja, canceled their show without explanation—another apparent victim of the anti-press policies of President Rafael Correa.

Those victims are many, and in many cases the president has successfully repressed them into silence or self-censorship. For a few months, the Sanmartín brothers chose the latter option, staying on the air to do morning news reports at Radio Satélital. But the station’s managers told them to avoid saying anything negative about “friends” of the station—like the local governor, the assemblyman, or the director of a hospital who had been investigated for corruption. As restrictions tightened, the brothers felt they could no longer do their jobs effectively.

So last March, they both quit. “I would not be pressured to change my journalistic criteria and praise corruption,” Lindon Sanmartín wrote in an e-mail interview. “I’d prefer to stay home.”

Read more in the Columbia Journalism Review.

Living on the edge in Brighton Beach

Sol and Marilyn Weltman never thought of themselves as poor. And statistically speaking, they are not. But that doesn’t mean that things aren’t tight, as they are for all those aging Americans who, while not technically below the poverty line, live lives in which income never quite keeps up with costs.

Call them the “new poor.”

“All your life you’ve lived in the middle class, and suddenly you find you’re in the poor class,” Marilyn says.

Read more on The Brooklyn Ink