God, AIDS, Africa & HOPE

Reflections / Gedanken

Only those who live the Torah… observations from a sommer study

Summer academy in Tabgha and Jerusalem – refresher course on bible history, Islam and Judaism and as always something new to learn.

To speak about Israel is a minefield, especially for a German. The Holocaust lingers constantly over all discussions, and the trauma somehow continues. To criticise Israel, whose politicians have cleverly conjoined the State of Israel and the Jewish faith, is consequently made difficult. How easy is it to be called an antisemite while criticising Israel’s politics towards the Palestinians.

The wilful ignorance towards the original plan to keep Jerusalem under UN administration has added to the woes. The trauma of the Holocaust has obviously also caused Israel to use massive force against Palestinians in a way which clearly hinders any political solution and kills also innocent bystanders. The violence on the part of Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other groups does not help either. It is a poisonous circle of violence, madness pure and not leading to any solution.

Visiting a Jewish service in a synagogue to welcome the Sabbath is touching, observing the ritual joy of welcoming the day of rest. It is admirable to see how traditions are kept and hopes are lived while having endured so many changes in their history from the deportation to Babylonia, the destruction of their sacred temple via the murderous crusades till the Holocaust and all the Antisemitism growing again in our days.

Having Jewish lecturers for the topic of Judaism, it was interesting to be reminded, that ultra-orthodox Jews oppose the State of Israel. A man-made state is not acceptable because at the end only God can establish the new Israel.

Besides this, we learned that the promised land is from a religious point of view only for those who live the Torah – and looking at the modern Israel on a Sabbath shows that Israelis are not per se living according to their holy books.

Another observation is that obviously the stretch of land has a history before the promised land was occupied by Jewish clans – and there are historians indicating that the people led by Moses originally have been from the same background as the Canaanites they battled.

Living in South Africa, there comes the same thoughts: What a beautiful country, and how magnificent could it be if only the people living there would keep peace. My stay here has reminded me how intertwined the problems of trauma on both sites of the fence are. Judging becomes a difficult task, but there is something I believe in:

Jerusalem, the holy place for the three major monotheistic religions, should be an open city under the UN, belonging to nobody than human mankind – to be a witness for the peacefulness, all three religions somehow claim. It is a failure of the UN not to have followed the original plan; and it is a failure of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faithful not to create a location where love, hope, tolerance, goodwill and peace are liveable and touchable in this space and place.

Shalom, Salam and Peace

Filed under: General, Politics and Society, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, Society and living environment, , , , , , , , , ,

2018 National Senior Certificate results and false hope

Every year the same scenario: the results of the written 2018 National Senior Certificate exams (equal the German “Abitur”) are publicized and discussions erupt in South Africa about the real numbers. While the Department of Basic Education announces the pass rate of 78,2 % and celebrates achievements, others are pointing out that the figures are trumped-up – as more than 400 000 students never made it to the final exams and if calculated in, the pass rate would be lower than 40%. Also worries of manipulation of results are voiced as needed benchmarks are changed to create “more fairness” by those advocating the higher numbers while others see it more critically.

Looking at the lowering of standards to achieve the necessary results to be able to study foundation is laid for a lot of disappointment and complications. Having the certificate clearly does not prepare most students for university – but the for-said beautification of results gives lead to the impression of students being able and ready to attend university. Besides financial difficulties frustration is the consequence when students then discover that they are unable or not enough prepared to follow academic studies – and the breeding ground is laid for the unrest and violence we saw in the #feesmustfall movement in so many instances.

A broken basic education system leads to massive drop-outs in the process and for many others to unhappiness, anger and frustration for those who made it further. Add the frustration and expectations of parents and family and the perception that not missing preparation but “the system” hinders success of studies one gets the poisoned mix of entitlement and attitude, which is exploited by those who bring then the “race question” and “decolonization”to the toxic mix.

If politicians would be honestly concerned about society they would start fixing the basic education system, putting money into better schools, teachers training, cutting the wings of unions interfering and manipulation the education system and slowly built up a school system of excellence for all.  Then no quotas and no exam result manipulations would be needed and a fair chance would be given to everybody entering the education system.

And it should also be clear that academic study is not the ultimate goal for everybody – vocations in other professions are needed and qualifications in skilled craft and trades are equally important compared with a Bcom or a Master degree.

Lastly: transformation in this area is needed and needs time – and if South Africa would not have wasted now years falling into the coma of corruption, incompetence and cadre deployment, the country would be much more advanced as it is in our days. Blaming only the bad old times of apartheid only works for those less educated or being so ideologized that facts don’t matter.
Education is the basic requirement for entrepreneurship, equality and the willingness to work hard to achieve dreams in life – too many young people have been left behind or given the false impression of entitlement  – time to change course and give the younger generation the tools for a future of prosperity and the ability to contribute meaningful to society.

Filed under: Africa, General, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, South Africa, Uncategorized, , , , , , , , ,

Living in a junk state

I guess for those you knew the situation well enough, the downgrading of South Africa to “junk status” came at no surprise. A cabinet reshuffle at midnight, ministers axed not informed directly but learning it from the TV news does not indicate a rational and honest move of a president reflecting on his actions.
The knives are out – and once again history shows that a liberation army styled as a political party will fail the people ungraciously if the transformation of the structures which were needed during the struggle does not happen in time. The desperate attempts to quell the public dissent within the ruling party is witness to the unhappiness within and the tweets of government to stop civil society to voice their opinion adds a more comic note to the very serious situation.
South Africa can fall into the trap of inner conflict and anarchy if the stalemate between those who want to rectify the situation and those whose greed and / or ideology clouds their judgement is not resolved and decisions are made to get out from this road leading to nowhere.
It’s not only the president who has to go – all his cronies and blind followers from Gigaba to Mbalula, from Dlamini to Mtambi have to be relieved from their duties to rescue the situation. I think the most hurtful matter is that a black majority feels the disappointment that their own people failed them greatly. This generates automatically defenses which are not helpful in the situation and one should be reminded that worldwide liberation movements are bad politicians in the first and sometimes second generation.
The dream of the rainbow nation seems so far away for the time being, but not everything is lost. There are millions of people who are willing to work hard to change the situation and to make the peaceful transition in 1994 a permanent feature; radical economic transition will follow if radical does not mean corruption and entitlement but good school education, adequate university studies and the equal chance of everybody to develop entrepreneurial skills as well as the chance to climb the career ladder because of skills and not of skin color.  As much as one wishes for a quick transformation – if it should be sustainable it must be the result of hard work and not gifts and badly handled BEE.

Times like this call for all citizens to organize and assist government to develop a society. NGO’s play a vital part in this scenario and I hope and pray that HOPE Cape Town can play its role in this unruly times. Making sure that health service delivery is maintained on a dignified level may for some be not the first priority, but I believe that only the concert of all playing their particular part in times of uncertainty can bring a society through those times into a more stable period of living in the new South Africa.

Filed under: Africa, HOPE Cape Town Association & Trust, Politics and Society, Reflection, Society and living environment, South Africa, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Risk of AIDS, Serious Illness and Death Reduced by 53% with Early ART

Press Release of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases ( US Department of Health and Human Services)

Starting Antiretroviral Treatment Early Improves Outcomes for HIV-Infected Individuals
A major international randomized clinical trial has found that HIV-infected individuals have a considerably lower risk of developing AIDS or other serious illnesses if they start taking antiretroviral drugs sooner, when their CD4+ T-cell count—a key measure of immune system health—is higher, instead of waiting until the CD4+ cell count drops to lower levels. Together with data from previous studies showing that antiretroviral treatment reduced the risk of HIV transmission to uninfected sexual partners, these findings support offering treatment to everyone with HIV.
The new finding is from the Strategic Timing of AntiRetroviral Treatment (START) study, the first large-scale randomized clinical trial to establish that earlier antiretroviral treatment benefits all HIV-infected individuals. The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, provided primary funding for the START trial. Though the study was expected to conclude at the end of 2016, an interim review of the study data by an independent data and safety monitoring board (DSMB) recommended that results be released early.
“We now have clear-cut proof that it is of significantly greater health benefit to an HIV-infected person to start antiretroviral therapy sooner rather than later,” said NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D. “Moreover, early therapy conveys a double benefit, not only improving the health of individuals but at the same time, by lowering their viral load, reducing the risk they will transmit HIV to others. These findings have global implications for the treatment of HIV.”
“This is an important milestone in HIV research,” said Jens Lundgren, M.D., of the University of Copenhagen and one of the co-chairs of the START study. “We now have strong evidence that early treatment is beneficial to the HIV-positive person. These results support treating everyone irrespective of CD4+ T-cell count.”
The START study, which opened widely in March 2011, was conducted by the International Network for Strategic Initiatives in Global HIV Trials (INSIGHT) at 215 sites in 35 countries. The trial enrolled 4,685 HIV-infected men and women ages 18 and older, with a median age of 36. Participants had never taken antiretroviral therapy and were enrolled with CD4+ cell counts in the normal range—above 500 cells per cubic millimeter (cells/mm3). Approximately half of the study participants were randomized to initiate antiretroviral treatment immediately (early treatment), and the other half were randomized to defer treatment until their CD4+ cell count declined to 350 cells/mm3. On average, participants in the study were followed for three years.
The study measured a combination of outcomes that included serious AIDS events (such as AIDS-related cancer), serious non-AIDS events (major cardiovascular, renal and liver disease and cancer), and death. Based on data from March 2015, the DSMB found 41 instances of AIDS, serious non-AIDS events or death among those enrolled in the study’s early treatment group compared to 86 events in the deferred treatment group. The DSMB’s interim analysis found risk of developing serious illness or death was reduced by 53 percent among those in the early treatment group, compared to those in the deferred group.
Rates of serious AIDS-related events and serious non-AIDS-related events were both lower in the early treatment group than the deferred treatment group. The risk reduction was more pronounced for the AIDS-related events. Findings were consistent across geographic regions, and the benefits of early treatment were similar for participants from low- and middle-income countries and participants from high-income countries.
“The study was rigorous and the results are clear,” said INSIGHT principal investigator James D. Neaton, Ph.D., a professor of biostatistics at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis. “The definitive findings from a randomized trial like START are likely to influence how care is delivered to millions of HIV-positive individuals around the world.” The University of Minnesota served as the trial’s regulatory sponsor and statistical and data management center.
Prior to the START trial, there was no randomized controlled trial evidence to guide initiating treatment for individuals with higher CD4+ cell counts. Previous evidence to support early treatment among HIV-positive people with CD4+ cell counts above 350 was limited to data from non-randomized trials or observational cohort studies, and on expert opinion.
START is the first large-scale randomized clinical trial to offer concrete scientific evidence to support the current U.S. HIV treatment guidelines, which recommend that all asymptomatic HIV-infected individuals take antiretrovirals, regardless of CD4+ cell count. Current World Health Organization HIV treatment guidelines recommend that HIV-infected individuals begin antiretroviral therapy when CD4+ cell counts fall to 500 cells/mm3 or less.
In light of the DSMB findings, study investigators are informing all participants of the interim results. Participants will be offered treatment if they are not already on antiretroviral therapy, and they will continue to be followed through 2016.
The HIV medicines used in the trial are approved medications donated by AbbVie, Inc., Bristol-Myers Squibb, Gilead Sciences, GlaxoSmithKline/ViiV Healthcare, Janssen Scientific Affairs, LLC, and Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp.
In addition to NIAID, funding for the START trial came from other NIH entities, including the National Cancer Institute; the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; the National Institute of Mental Health; the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke; the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development; the NIH Clinical Center; and the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases. Funding was also provided by the National Agency for Research on AIDS and Viral Hepatitis (ANRS) in France, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research in Germany, the European AIDS Treatment Network and government organizations based in Australia, Denmark, and the United Kingdom.
The Medical Research Council Clinical Trials Unit at University College London; the Copenhagen HIV Program at the Rigshospitalet, University of Copenhagen in Denmark; the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia; and the Veterans Affairs Medical Center affiliated with George Washington University in Washington, D.C. coordinated the work of the 215 START sites.
For more information about the START trial, see the Questions and Answers or visit ClinicalTrials.gov using study identifier NCT00867048.
NIAID conducts and supports research—at NIH, throughout the United States, and worldwide—to study the causes of infectious and immune-mediated diseases, and to develop better means of preventing, diagnosing and treating these illnesses. News releases, fact sheets and other NIAID-related materials are available on the NIAID website.

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation’s medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit www.nih.gov.

NIH…Turning Discovery Into Health ®

 

Filed under: HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, HIV Treatment, Medical and Research, Networking, , , , , , , , , ,

Study of the German Catholic Bishops Conference on HIV/AIDS published in Germany

The German bishops are committed to make sure that HIV-infected priests and religious in Africa can talk openly about their situation. Until now they could “not openly live with HIV while in the church service.”
This is one of the results of a study that the Working Group of the department for the work in the universal church of the German Bishops Conference has released on Tuesday. “Lessons from the responses of the Catholic Church on HIV and AIDS in Africa,” is the theme of the study. It contains the results of an international field study, which was conducted from 2010 to 2013 in Ethiopia, Zambia and Malawi by theologians and health experts which are summarized. Not only medical aspects, but also pastoral and ethical issues are addressed.
Furthermore the study calls that church and medical institutions should work better together. Any efforts in the fields of HIV prevention, care, support and support for AIDS patients should be continued. The results of the study will be disseminated through workshops in Africa, which was the wish of the participating African bishops.
Basically, the situation of the people should be considered and taken into account, according to the study. Economic, social, cultural and political pressure has pushed many people to risky behavior. In the training of priests and pastoral workers ethical and pastoral skills related to the pandemic must be taken into account. (translated from the Vatican News – German section)

For somebody advocating to address the question of HIV positive priest here in South Africa since years this small article feels like a great encouragement. Until now I have experienced only great openness when addressing the issue in the Vatican with the head of the Papal Council for Health Care and the secretary for the Council on Justice and Peace, but met with rather quiet resistance when addressing the issue here in South Africa. It is indeed not a sexy topic, but the question, how we can turn the double stigma priests and religious suffering from the pandemic into a blessing for them and their respective communities is for me an important one. An organization like the church which caters so much for HIV positive people in general and was and is at the forefront in the fight against HIV/AIDS on practical level here in South Africa can at the end only be authentic if it caters with the same compassion and openness for the own people affected and infected.
I have experienced how anxious priests are, who are infected. It seems to be in the current situation impossible to get two priests who are both HIV positive in the same room  to share life. The fear of being known, being betrayed by a colleague and exposed, the fear of rejection from the respective parish or community shows a climate within the church urgently to be addressed. We are a welcoming church and the unconditional love of God we have to proclaim must be felt and extended to our fellow priests and religious brothers and sisters. It is indeed also a question of Justice & Peace within the church to do so and make space available for this. Once again: Stigma must be turned into blessing – and the unconditional love of God will shine palpable upon us all.

Filed under: Africa, Catholic Church, chaplain, General, HIV and AIDS, HIV Prevention, HIV Treatment, Reflection, Religion and Ethics, South Africa, , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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