Category: About our Vitalwave project

The Art of Medicine: Women in Sub-Saharan Africa are so Afraid of the Stigma Associated with an HIV/AIDS Diagnosis That They Will Forgo Potentially Life-Saving HIV Testing and Treatment

The Fear Factor: Before a pregnant woman in sub-Saharan Africa will submit herself to testing and treatment for HIV she will often have to be convinced that an HIV-positive diagnosis will not drive her husband or her community away from her.

In 2009, the World Health Organization called for the “virtual elimination” of mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) of HIV by 2015. MTCT of HIV is how 90% of infants contract the disease, i.e. from their HIV-positive mother during pregnancy, childbirth or breastfeeding.

The WHO, emboldened by the promise of prenatal HIV testing and MTCT intervention programs, thus made the claim that in a mere 6 years, MTCT of HIV would be eliminated.

But that has not even come close to happening. In 2011, the last year for which figures are available, the WHO reports that “most” of the more than 3 million children living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa acquired it from their HIV-infected mothers.

One reason MTCT of HIV continues is that medical care for these pregnant women hasn’t turned out to be as accessible as once thought. But researchers from the University of California discovered something else: that even when HIV testing and other prenatal care programs are available, pregnant women simply won’t avail themselves of those services.

Why? Because of the awful stigma that’s still associated with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. Specifically, women fear being shunned, or worse, by their community, friends, family, their husbands, and even by health workers.

The woman’s biggest fear, according to the study, is of their male partner. She fears that she will be blamed for bringing the virus into the family, or worse, that her HIV/AIDS infection means that she has been promiscuous: a charge of promiscuity means being abandoned, beaten, or both.

A principal solution offered by the researchers was couple counseling that supports the woman and debunks the myths associated with the disease. However, both the problem of stigma and the offer of counseling reminds us that the practice of medicine is about more than just testing, treatment, and technology; that understanding the patient as a person, that their concerns in their immediate environment often need to come first before science can do its job.

Nelson Mandela and AIDS: A Profile in Courage

Today, in honor of the passing off a great man, the United Nations issued a statement reminding the world that “Nelson Mandela was a central figure in the AIDS movement. He was instrumental in laying the foundations of the modern AIDS response. His actions helped save millions of lives and transformed health in Africa. He broke the conspiracy of silence and gave hope that all people should live with dignity.”

The conspiracy of silence referred to by the UN was a major stumbling block in fighting AIDS and it was locked in place at the very top by people like Thabo Mbeki, Mr Mandela’s successor as president in 1999. Mbeki openly questioned whether AIDS was caused by HIV, telling a US journalist that “personally, I don’t know anybody who has died of Aids” and that he did not know if he had ever met anyone infected with HIV. As a result, the South African government was reluctant to fund anti-retroviral drugs for those with HIV; and in public most South Africans were too afraid to mention the disease.

So it wasn’t  just HIV/AIDS itself that had be dealt with, it was also the veil of secrecy and fear that surrounded it – a challenge that Mr. Mandela chose to face.

Shortly after leaving office, on World Aids Day in 2000, he sent out a hard-hitting message: “Our country is facing a disaster of immeasurable proportions from HIV/Aids. We are facing a silent and invisible enemy that is threatening the very fabric of our society.”

Before the opening of Parliament in 2002 he spoke up again, this time about the importance of preventing mother-to-child transmission of HIV. This was at the very time that the Mbeki government was being dragged to court because it was refusing to treat pregnant mothers with HIV.

Mr. Mandela was personally stuck by the tragedy of AIDS in 2005 when his own son Matata Mandela died from it. “I announce that my son has died of AIDS,” the frail looking 86-year-old Nobel Peace laureate told a news conference, urging a redoubled fight against the disease. “Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it, because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness like tuberculosis, like cancer, is always to come out and to say somebody has died because of HIV/AIDS.

The following year Mr Mandela – and his Nelson Mandela Foundation – stepped up the campaign, launching an HIV/Aids fundraising campaign called 46664, after his prison number on Robben Island. He compared the urgency and drama of his country’s struggle against HIV/Aids to the fight against apartheid.

In one of his notable public statements about AIDS, Mr Mandela called on the world to be brave, “The more we lack the courage and the will to act, the more we condemn to death our brothers and sisters, our children and our grand-children.

According to the UN, South Africa is still  home to more people with the virus than any other country – 6.1 million of its citizens were infected with HIV in 2012, including 410,000 children (aged 0-14), out of a population of just over 51 million.

Of Mr. Mandela we know this: he had the courage to act.

What remains to be seen is whether we do too.

What Will I Tell the Child?

Considerable progress has been made in the battle against HIV/AIDS since it first appeared on the world stage in the early 1980s. It is no longer stigmatized as a “gay” disease, funding for medical research is way up, and modern treatment essentially allows people with HIV to live manageable lives – as we see, for example, in the well-known case of the former NBA player Irvin “Magic” Johnson.

However, there remains one tragic aspect of HIV/AIDS that is still not fully appreciated: the impact on a mother who gives birth to an HIV-positive child. In other words, the giver of life, during pregnancy or childbirth, delivers a lifelong sentence of disease to her child that often results in the child’s death – in front of the mother’s eyes.

This is especially the case in developing countries. While it is generally known that HIV is transmitted through sexual contact and blood-to-blood transfer, less known is the fact that  mother-to-child transmission (MTCT) is how 90% of children get HIV and the 3d most common way globally that HIV is transmitted.

Understandably, the first one to be told that the child has HIV is the mother. As a study conducted by  the Harvard Medical School and colleagues points out, this places a tremendous burden on her to disclose: first to her spouse and then, eventually, to the child. Disclosing their status was often very difficult for women, who feared that their partners would blame and/or abandon them upon hearing the news.

Explaining antiretroviral use to children was cited as a challenge to long-term care of HIV-positive children. Parents generally did not tell their child why they were giving them medicine, but some children started to inquire. As an HIV-positive mother put it:

The thing that disturbs me is that I always think what will I tell my child when he grows to a level of understanding and he asks me why he is taking drugs. Because even now he asks me, ‘Mummy I no longer cough but why am I still taking drugs every day?’ What will I tell the child?

As the Harvard et al. study tells us, motherhood places particular stress on HIV-infected women due to higher levels of depression, poorer family cohesion, less ability to perform daily functions, and the need to care for HIV-infected children.  One serious effect of depression and anxiety is on patient adherence to (lifesaving) medication regimes: i.e. depressed patients had three times the odds of noncompliance compared to non-depressed patients.

But there is a way to avoid these problems: treatment of the mother before she gives birth. Pathogens that are passed on during labor are usually found colonizing the birth canal. Vitalwave treatment targets these pathogens, destroying them safely and effectively and thus prevents the transmission of HIV to the child in the first place.

So in answer to the mother’s question, What will I tell the child? what do we say to her, knowing that if she were properly treated before she gave birth, the question wouldn’t have arisen in the first place?

HIV/AIDS: Using Technology to Mitigate the Global Pandemic

It is difficult to describe the scale of tragedy which HIV and AIDS have brought to the world. What is particularly heart wrenching is that 72% of AID’s related deaths are in Africa, while this continent has 14.5% of the world’s population. Such dominating incidence and precedence in third world instead of first world countries means that there are technological measures which would mitigate, but not fully eliminate, the disease and its effects. Vertical Transmission of HIV (mother to child) is almost non-existent in developed countries, but is a consistent problem in Nigeria, for example.

A technology addressing the issue of Vertical Transmission is Vitalwave™, a technology that shows significant promise by decolonizing the birth canal and reducing the incidence of transmission of HIV and other pathogens (STI). The new technology will be explained along with descriptions of the biological mechanisms of HIV.

Essentially, HIV/AIDS refers to a two fold disorder involving a virus (human immunodeficiency virus infection, HIV) and the manifestation and clinical symptoms in the body. The process in it’s entirety is subdivided into three general stages; Acute infection, clinical latency, and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.

Prevalence of HIV/AIDs in Africa

The first stage, usually occurring one to two weeks after acquiring HIV, consists of various influenza-like symptoms, but may also include the development of opportunistic infections. Opportunistic infections take place in humans with compromised immune systems and would not normally affect healthy individuals. These early symptoms are general and are not directly indicative of HIV or AIDS.

The second stage of development is known as Clinical Latency, which, as the name implies, denotes an asymptomatic phase of progression. Here, the patient carries the virus but its symptoms are not expressed outright. Instead, near the end of this stage people may experience fever, weight loss, gastrointestinal problems, and muscle pains.

In the absence of specific treatment, roughly half of those with HIV will develop into the third stage, AIDS. There are many symptoms that indicate the presence of AIDS, but the most common are pneumonia, cachexia (loss of weight and muscle atrophy) and recurring respiratory tract infections. Opportunistic infections may develop from bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites that would normally be prevented by a more functional immune system. People with AIDS are highly susceptible to cancers, fevers, swollen lymph nodes, and various other diseases. Diseases acquired are dependent greatly on environmental factors such as which bacteria and pathogens are prevalent.

Proportional Development of HIV/AIDs in Africa

A difficult problem to address with HIV/AIDS is how to treat individuals in third world countries. The spread of this disease can certainly be mitigated with the use of several practices and protocols. One such practice is consistent condom use, which could reduce the risk of sexual HIV transmission by approximately 80% over the long term. Programs to prevent the vertical transmission of HIV (from mothers to children) can reduce rates of transmission by 92-99%. This is conventionally done with antiviral medications that target specific viruses (similar to how antibiotics target bacteria) during pregnancy and after birth. There is another method of treating vertical transmission of HIV called Vitalwave™, which has been developed to the prototype stage and shows significant promise. It works on the principle of photodisinfection, and has no systemic effects to the mother or drug interactions with prescribed antiretroviral therapy. It may also block the transmission of other pathogens, such as Group B Streptococcus, HSV, HCV, and other STI’s.

The Global Fund (an international financing organization that targets AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria) recently released 25 million dollars to 12 states and the Federal Capital Territory to develop treatments of mother to child transmission of HIV. This kind of support shows that Mother to Child Transmission is a vital area to address in the global initiative of fighting AIDS. Vitalwave is part of this initiative, and as the world starts implementing these technologies and continues financial and technological aid, the global pandemic will see life saving and world changing improvements.

FDA Approves First Ever HIV Prevention Pill

The best method in the fight against HIV AIDS has always been prevention. Man has tried to stop the spread of the disease with three main ways: the use of condoms, being faithful to a single partner and total abstinence from sex. These three methods seemed to have worked, as today the infection rates have been found to stagnate and, in some countries, to even nosedive, thus indicating a great victory.

But, these preventive methods didn’t actually fight the disease head on or proactively. And they were methods that were implemented in the hope that both parties involved were HIV negative. But not anymore; in what is being considered a huge milestone in the 30-year long fight against the disease, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the first ever HIV prevention pill1.

Called Truvada, this latest step in the fight against the disease is the product of Gilead Sciences. The company has been researching and developing drugs that have been used to fight diseases like HIV AIDS, Hepatitis B and influenza since 1987.

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Empowering Women and Their Participation in the Fight against HV/AIDS

The month of March is special because it is the month when we celebrate International Women’s Day (IWD). It is the day when we all express our respect, appreciation and admiration for the women from all parts of the world. The United Nations decides on what theme the IWD will be focusing on, and this year it was “Empower Women – End Hunger and Poverty”.

Looking at the first part of the slogan, that is “Empower Women”, we find that a lot of the problems that we are facing in the world today could be solved by enforcing these two words. While empowering the women of the world and enabling them to be the main breadwinners of their homes will definitely be the tool to end hunger and poverty, it can also be the means by which mankind can defeat diseases that have been ravaging us for decades, a good example being HIV/AIDS.

As we all know, the most effective tool that has been found to combat this disease is awareness. For the better part of the last few decades, mankind has been dying from sheer lack of information on the disease. And even when it was discovered that people’s lives could be saved by simply informing them about the disease and its transmission methods, the number of new infections still kept rising. Read More

Pregnant Women Reluctant to Be Tested For HIV/AIDS

Knowing beforehand whether or not a pregnant women is infected with HIV/AIDS is a key factor in the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of the disease. Nothing can be sadder than watching children slowly and painfully wither away. It becomes heartbreakingly painful when taking into consideration the fact that with the help of HIV/AIDS testing, this needn’t be the case. However, an alarming number of pregnant women in Africa have been found to be reluctant to take an HIV/AIDS test1.

It has been known for quite some time now that pregnant women that are tested for HIV can be treated with a regimen that prevents mother-to-child transmission (MTCT). The latest guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) suggest that should a pregnant mother be diagnosed with HIV, she should start her PMTCT regimen as early as 14 weeks into her pregnancy and follow it strictly until the birth of her child. If these guidelines are strictly adhered to the chances of a baby being born infected are very low.

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Voices of Our Future Leaders – One Young World Summit 2011

David Cross

David Cross at One Young World Summit 2011

It is the hope of each generation that the next one will make even more of a positive difference. I have the honor of attending the “One Young World Summit 2011” in Zurich and it is inspiring to see the youth of today truly dedicated to making a difference. This premiere event brings together the best, and brightest from around the world to ensure that their concerns, opinions and solutions are heard.

The Summit is designed to address the most pressing issues in the world today and we strongly believe that the reduction of antibiotic resistant infections should be a part of any global health initiative.

Carolyn Cross

Carolyn Cross, CEO & Founder Ondine Biomedical

Today, 130 million doses of antibiotics are administered every year, and up to half of these have been deemed as unnecessary. Antibiotic resistant superbugs have become a global problem, and we may be heading towards a pre-antibiotic era of medication where we will be unable to treat simple infections.

In attending this conference it is my hope to influence some of the delegates to carry on from where I will leave off in my push to reduce antibiotic resistant infections.

You can view some of the highlights from the One Young World Summit at: http://www.oneyoungworld.com and I will be sure to follow up with an overview.

Until then congratulations to all of the young voices of our future.

Vitalwave™ – An Overview

Vitalwave™ is the application of photodisinfection to the birth canal. It is a therapy currently under development by OrGenX Biopharma Corporation and Ondine Biomedical Inc. for the prevention of mother-to-child transmission (PMTCT) of HIV. More than 90% of HIV infections in children are caused by mother-to-child transmission. This is the equivalent of 1,600 children becoming infected with HIV every day, or one child every minute1, affecting 1 out of every 4 babies born. Vitalwave™ is intended to bypass the stigma associated with AIDS, and designed to be safe, instantly effective and inexpensive to allow for universal deployment in resource-poor counties.

It is estimated that 13-38% of all pregnant women in South Africa are HIV positive1. Current estimates indicate that 90% of HIV-positive women in resource-poor settings do not have access to antiretroviral (ARV) medication on a regular basis and often reject treatment due to fear of the stigma-related threats of violence and abandonment. In the absence of ARV treatment, a pregnant woman has a 14-42% chance of passing HIV on to their child during labour and delivery2. A higher HIV vaginal viral load in the mother is associated with an increased risk of transmission to their unborn child. Vitalwave™ is currently being designed to safely and immediately reduce the HIV vaginal viral load to low levels.

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Vitalwave Will Live-Blog From The Global Business Coalition’s Annual Conference!

The 10th Anniversary of the Global Business Coalition’s Annual Conference will take place in New York City June 1stand 2nd.  With the theme of “Bold Leadership.  Big Impact,” the 2011 GBC Conference will focus on “Business Driving Change for a Healthier World.”

Vitalwave’s own Bryon Bhagwandin will live-blog from this event featuring special sessions, panel discussions, an awards dinner and fund-raising auction presented by a star-studded line-up of over 1,000 business executives, policy makers, celebrities and thought leaders.  Some of the presenters include Sir Richard Branson, George Soros, Ted Turner, Gordon Brown, Kenneth Cole and Sarah Jessica Parker.  In addition, Whoopi Goldberg will host the Gala Awards dinner where Sigourney Weaver and Kim Cattrall will present awards and Natalie Merchant will provide musical entertainment.

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