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Archive for May 20th, 2011

SOME GOOD REASONS TO INVEST IN KENYA

Posted by African Press International on May 20, 2011

• People
When one asks foreign investors in Kenya what they consider the country’s greatest asset, the answer is almost always “People”. Kenya is one foreign investor in insurance, for example, it speaks of the calibre of its workforce providing his company with the prospect of becoming a “world-class service provider”. It is not uncommon to hear the Kenyan workforce described as “skilled, hard-working and enterprising”, an assessment of employees rare elsewhere in Africa.
This asset is one reason why Kenya has remained the leading economy in the region despite the difficulties it has faced over the 48 years since independence. It is also why Kenya has the potential to be the regional hub for a variety of services such as auditing, marketing, logistics and education.

• Market access
Kenya is one of the three members of the East African Community (EAC), the others being Tanzania and Uganda. The EAC has established an integration process that might see political federation by 2013.
The EAC customs union came into effect on January 1, 2005 and internal trade will be fully free in five years in this market of 93 million consumers. Investing in Kenya also provides investors with access to the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), which has 385 million consumers. As a member of the African, Caribbean and Pacific States (ACP), Kenyan exports have privileged access as well to the European Union – as they do to the United States under the provisions of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).

• Opportunities
Climate and soil are ideally suited in some parts of Kenya for the development of agricultural produce for export, and the country has established a track record in this area. Kenya is the world’s second largest exporter of tea, and its horticulture sector is now its top export earner. The climate, says one foreign investor in horticulture, is the best thing about the country. The climate, along with the coastline and the abundance of wildlife, is also a great asset for tourism. Kenya has a fairly well-developed tourism infrastructure (hotels, lodges, tour operators, air transport), and the attractions of the Maasai Mara and the Mombasa coast are widely known, although many other areas with tourism potential remain unexploited.
Yet other opportunities can be found in manufacturing, where Kenya has a well-established base for exports to the East African region, and in services, which can draw on the country’s well-educated workforce.

• Development
As one of the developing countries, there is need for infrastructure around the country as the population has risen dramatically. There is an urgent need for housing development which seems to be thriving very well at the moment offering shelter to all and sundry as well as business venture for investors.

The Millennium Development Goal of the international community emphasizes the potential role of the private sector in helping countries reach their development goals and targets. Foreign direct investment is recognized as an important factor in this context, since it brings to host countries capital, technology, innovation, management know-how, as well as access to supply chains and new markets. Under the right policy conditions and institutional frameworks, it can thus contribute to economic development and growth.

Welcome to invest in Kenya the land of potential.

By: Carol

Related: UK seeks investment opportunities in Kenya

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Earlier initiation of HIV treatment led to a 96 percent reduction in HIV transmission to the uninfected partner

Posted by African Press International on May 20, 2011

HIV/AIDS: ARVs as prevention must move quickly “from science to action”

Photo: IRIN
Earlier initiation of HIV treatment led to a 96 percent reduction in HIV transmission to the uninfected partner

NAIROBI, 13 May 2011 (PlusNews) – A landmark study showing major reductions in HIV transmission among discordant couples due to early treatment may fail to have a significant impact on HIV prevention unless governments and donors are willing to turn the science into action, HIV advocates say.

“These are very exciting results that we hope will begin to change the debate and the discourse over the issues around HIV treatment and prevention,” Mitchell Warren, executive director of the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition (AVAC), told IRIN/PlusNews. “Coming right before the UN High Level Meeting on HIV in New York next month, we hope that the results will take the discussion from rhetoric to reality.”

While several observational studies have shown similar results, these are the first results from a major randomized clinical trial to indicate that treating an HIV-infected individual can reduce the risk of sexual transmission of HIV to an uninfected partner. Known as HPTN 052 and funded by the US National Institutes of Health, the trial was due to end in 2015 but an independent data and safety monitoring board recommended halting it early because of overwhelming evidence of benefits.

In 2010, UNAIDS launched a new HIV treatment and prevention approach, called Treatment 2.0, which aims to drastically scale up testing and treatment based on mounting evidence that people on ARVs are much less likely to transmit the virus. The organization estimates that successful implementation of Treatment 2.0 could avert 10 million deaths by 2025, and reduce new infections by one-third.

Overwhelming evidence

“Take the example of male circumcision as an HIV prevention tool – there were several observational studies that seemed to point to its effectiveness for HIV prevention, but it was not until the clinical trial results in Kenya, South Africa and Uganda that we saw guidelines, policies and programmes developed – and funding made available,” Warren said. “This is what we hope these results will achieve in terms of a targeted response to treatment and prevention within sero-discordant couples. We also hope to see more trials of other groups to strengthen the evidence further.”

''The biggest donors globally seem to be shutting their eyes, ears and mouths when it comes to the evidence of what will work to lower infection rates and treat people living with HIV''

HPTN 052 began in April 2005 and enrolled 1,763 couples in Botswana, Brazil, India, Kenya, Malawi, South Africa, Thailand, the US and Zimbabwe. At enrolment, the HIV-positive partners had CD4 cell counts – a measure of immune strength – between 350 and 550 so were not eligible for ARVs based on most national guidelines. The UN World Health Organization recommends beginning ARVs at a CD4 cell count of 350 or below. The couples were randomly assigned to either a group where the HIV-positive partner received ARVs immediately, or to one where HIV-positive partners deferred initiation of ARV treatment until they were eligible under national guidelines.

Out of 28 HIV infections among study participants, 27 occurred among the 877 couples in which the HIV-infected partner did not begin antiretroviral therapy immediately. The study’s authors concluded that earlier initiation of HIV treatment led to a 96 percent reduction in HIV transmission to the HIV-uninfected partner.

Hope, caution

“These results are the best evidence of the need for treatment, not just in cases of sickness, but also for prevention, especially in countries where new HIV infections are rising among couples,” Sharonann Lynch, HIV policy adviser for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). “It adds to the prevention toolbox we already have; we now have more tools than ever and we need to use all of them.”

“HIV-positive people are the happiest – they now know if they start treatment early they are unlikely to infect their loved ones, and at the same time, they may stop being seen as people who are likely to infect others, which will hopefully reduce stigma,” said Nelson Otwoma, coordinator of Kenya’s Network of People living with HIV/AIDS. “For HIV-negative partners, they will now feel less at risk if their partners start treatment early, and they will also feel safer trying to conceive children.”

Otwoma warned that counseling would need to be an integral part of any new policy to ensure people were well-informed of the remaining risks and the need to continue with other methods of HIV prevention such as condom use.

He also said in order for any policy to be developed, countries such as Kenya would need to step up the availability of CD4 testing technology and drastically increase the availability of ARVs to enable all those in need to access them.

AVAC’s Warren noted that implementing the results would go a long way towards achieving the goal of universal access to treatment, prevention and care. An estimated six million people around the world are on ARVs, but this is a fraction of the global need.

Finding the money


Photo: M. Sayagues/PlusNews
Donors and governments will have to step up ARV programmes

However, MSF’s Lynch noted that the recent retreat by major HIV donors could severely hinder plans to implement the study’s results.

“Unfortunately, the biggest donors globally seem to be shutting their eyes, ears and mouths when it comes to the evidence of what will work to lower infection rates and treat people living with HIV,” she said. “This study was sponsored by the US government – the US needs to listen to its scientists to inform their policies.

“With political will and the right policies, we can triple the number of people on treatment without tripling the costs,” she added. “When HIV treatment first started several years ago, the funding was not all available, but gradually, treatment programmes began; growth may be slow, but it will expand.”

A recent MSF report recommended ways of achieving increased treatment efficiency, including putting people on treatment earlier, decentralizing ARV provision to local clinics and empowering nurses to provide ARVs. The report further noted that because of funding problems, treatment programmes in several countries – including the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Uganda and Zimbabwe – were under threat.

According to Lynch, major donors were also backing away from committing to global HIV treatment targets. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently outlined a new target to ensure HIV treatment for 13 million people by 2015.

“The large donors seem unsure about setting targets; it’s is a bit of a scandal, really. If 10 years since the first UN High Level Meeting on HIV we are not working towards targets, then the fight against HIV treatment and prevention is rudderless,” she said. “We are looking at a case of the best science and the worst policy.”

kr/mw source www.irinnews.org

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Breakthrough in AIDS vaccine research

Posted by African Press International on May 20, 2011

HIV/AIDS: Milestones in vaccine research

Breakthrough in AIDS vaccine research

NAIROBI/JOHANNESBURG, 13 May 2011 (PlusNews) – News of an experimental vaccine that successfully protected more than 50 percent of macaques from the monkey equivalent of HIV will give a much-needed boost to vaccine development, which has seen little progress of late.

The researchers gave 24 healthy macaques a vaccine containing a genetically modified form of the virus, called the rhesus cytomegalovirus (CMV).

The vaccine was designed to produce antigens that attack Simian Immunodeficiency Virus (SIV), the monkey equivalent of HIV. It protected 13 of the 24 macaques in the study, and remained effective for up to one year in 12 of the vaccinated monkeys.

The findings could be useful in understanding how to develop a vaccine that could protect humans from HIV and have been published in the science journal, Nature.

Milestones

False leads and disappointing outcomes mark the long road to developing an effective HIV vaccine. IRIN/PlusNews has compiled a list of milestones in AIDS vaccine research:

1987 - The first clinical trial of an HIV vaccine in the United States. A Phase I safety trial enrols 138 HIV-negative volunteers and finds that the candidate vaccine has no serious side effects.

Since then, more than 50 vaccines have been tested, involving more than 10,000 human volunteers.

1997 - US President Bill Clinton sets a goal of developing a vaccine for HIV within 10 years. “It is no longer a question of whether we can develop an AIDS vaccine; it is simply a question of when. And it cannot come a day too soon,” he is reported as saying. 

Late 1990s – researchers start recognizing that vaccines which help the body generate antibodies against HIV, the most commonly used method, will not work because the HI virus mutates too rapidly.

Research shifts to cellular immunity, in which vaccines that stimulate one particular arm of the immune system delay or prevent HIV progression and reduce transmission, even if they don’t block infection.

2003 – AIDSVAX – an experimental preventive HIV vaccine – had no noticeable effect on HIV infection rates in the 2,546 intravenous drug users in Bangkok, Thailand, who participate in the study, nor does it slow the disease’s progress in volunteers who take the vaccine and later contract HIV.

2007 - Pharmaceutical company Merck announces that it is ending the enrolment and vaccination of volunteers in a study funded by the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) after the vaccine fails to lower the risk of HIV infection or reduce the severity of infection in volunteers who become HIV-positive during the trial. 

The data comes from Phase II clinical trials in North and South America, the Caribbean and Australia, which began in December 2004. The volunteers were mostly homosexual men and sex workers considered at high risk of contracting HIV.

After 13 months, 24 cases of HIV are found in 741 people who received at least one dose of the vaccine, compared to 21 infections in the 762 volunteers who received a placebo. The vaccine also fails to reduce the amount of virus in the blood of those who become infected.

A second phase II trial of the vaccine in South Africa is also discontinued.

2009 – A six-year clinical trial in Thailand yields the first evidence that an AIDS vaccine could provide some protection against HIV infection. The rate of HIV infection is 31 percent lower in trial participants given the vaccine than in those who get a placebo.

Researchers later question the statistical significance of some of the study’s findings, but experts are confident that the RV 144 vaccine – a combination of two vaccines – could potentially be developed into a functional vaccine.

2009 – Two powerful new antibodies that can cripple the HI virus are discovered and described as “broadly neutralizing” because they can make a high percentage of the many types of HIV found worldwide ineffective.

These antibodies are only produced in a minority of HIV-infected individuals but are widely believed to offer the best hope for developing an AIDS vaccine that could teach the body to produce its own antibodies before exposure to the virus. Only four HIV antibodies widely agreed to be broadly neutralizing have been found.

2009 – A Phase II randomized, controlled trial starts in 2009 with more than 1,300 US men who have sex with men testing a vaccine developed by the NIH.

The study is not expected to prevent HIV infection, but will examine whether the vaccine significantly reduces viral load in HIV-infected individuals. Results are expected in 2012.

2010 – Kenya starts a Phase I trial to test the safety and efficacy of an HIV vaccine candidate – a modified vaccine virus, Ankara, (MVA.HIVA) – in infants.

The UK Medical Research Council and the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership are sponsoring the trial, which will enrol 72 infants in Kenya and Gambia, and monitor them for one year.

Scientists in the Kenyan arm of the study say so far the vaccine has not led to any adverse effects in the infants.

kr/kn/he source www.irinnews.org

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Uganda: There has been intense local and international pressure against the bills

Posted by African Press International on May 20, 2011

UGANDA: MP to persevere with anti-homosexuality bill

There has been intense local and international pressure against the bills

KAMPALA, 17 May 2011 (PlusNews) – Uganda’s Anti-Homosexuality Bill and HIV Prevention and Control Bill are likely to be carried over to the new session of parliament, despite international and local pressure.

David Bahati, the Member of Parliament who introduced the Anti-Homosexuality Bill (2009), said he fully intended to re-introduce the bill into the next session. The new parliament was sworn in on 16 May.

“The closure of this parliament is just pressing on the pause button,” he said. “I’m committed to the fight against behaviour and promotion of behaviour that is going to destroy the future of our children.”

Men who have sex with men (MSM) are considered by the Uganda AIDS Commission to be a “most at-risk population”, but because homosexual acts are illegal, there are no policies or services targeting HIV interventions towards them. AIDS activists say the bill would only drive an already stigmatized population further underground, leaving them even more vulnerable to HIV.

MSM are often referred to as a “bridging” population for HIV to the general population, given that many also have sex with women. According to a 2010 survey of 303 MSM in the capital Kampala by the US Centres for Disease Control, 78 percent had had sex with women while 31 percent had been married. The study also found HIV prevalence among participants was 13.7 percent, significantly higher than the city’s average rate of 8.5 percent; knowledge of the risks of HIV was also low.

Amendments

Following consultations with various stakeholders, including the government, civil society and the clergy, the Committee of Parliamentary and Legal Affairs has adopted a number of amendments to the original bill, including the removal of provisions criminalizing “attempted” homosexuality and those requiring anyone who knows of homosexual conduct to report it to the police within 24 hours.

However, according to Human Rights Watch, despite Bahati and other supporters of the bill agreeing to the deletion of the bill’s “death penalty clause”, the parliamentary committee retained the death penalty for those accused of “aggravated homosexuality”, by suggesting it be redefined as “aggravated defilement”, which is also punishable by death.

The committee further recommended the creation of the new crime of conducting a marriage ceremony between persons of the same sex, punishable by three years in prison, and suggested deleting the crimes of “aiding and abetting homosexuality,” and “conspiracy to commit homosexuality”, but included a penalty of seven years in prison for “procuring homosexuality by threats”.

Bahati said he would not be pushing for the death penalty but the focus would now be primarily on targeting the “promotion” of homosexuality, which could extend to public health policies. The Most at Risk Populations’ Initiative, introduced in 2008 by the Ministry of Health to target HIV counselling and prevention toward specific populations, including MSM, could, for instance, see health practitioners and members of civil society imprisoned.

''The closure of this parliament is just pressing on the pause button. I’m committed to the fight agianst behaviour and the promotion of behaviour that is going to destroy the future of our children''

Bahati said the bill had the support of an overwhelming number of MPs and he expected it to be debated and passed by the end of the year. Stephen Tashobya, chairman of the Committee of Parliamentary and Legal Affairs, said the bill could, in theory, be tabled any time from next week, but that the government agenda would take precedence.

However, even if passed, the bill would require assent from President Yoweri Museveni, who holds strong views against homosexuality but amid international condemnation last year said he would not back a bill with either death penalty or “aggravated homosexuality” provisions.

Nevertheless, activists say a weaker version of the bill would retain the illegal nature of homosexuality and keep gays and lesbians in the closet while encouraging dangerous stigma against them in society. Homosexual Ugandans say they live in fear, especially following the murder of prominent gay activist David Kato in 2010 shortly after he was “outed” by a local tabloid.

HIV Prevention and Control Bill

Also left pending by the previous session of parliament and likely to be carried over into the next session is the HIV Prevention and Control Bill (2008), intended to provide a legal framework for the national response to HIV, as well as protect the rights of individuals affected by HIV. However, certain provisions – such as punishing the deliberate transmission of HIV with the death penalty – have been heavily criticized by human rights activists, who claim they would only serve to increase stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV.

Attacks on people living with HIV are also not uncommon, with several acts of aggression and murder reported in the press over the past few years.

Major Rubaramira Ruranga, executive director of the National Guidance and Empowerment Network of people living with HIV/AIDS in Uganda, says if passed, the bills would breed an environment of distrust and secrecy around an epidemic that benefits from open dialogue.

“People need to be counselled, people need to take informed decisions to disclose their HIV status,” he said. “Above all, it creates a situation where people do not want to present themselves to health institutions, even for HIV testing.”

The opposition politician and vocal HIV-positive activist said some of the two bills’ most harmful provisions were a blatant denial of human rights.

“They do not consider certain people to belong to society, they look at certain people as sinners, as criminals – and that kind of discrimination is anti-people,” Ruranga said.

pc/kr/mw source www.irinnews.org

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