Bloodborne HIV: Don't Get Stuck!

Protect yourself from bloodborne HIV during healthcare and cosmetic services

New reports of HIV outbreaks from unsafe healthcare in India and Pakistan


The outbreaks

India: On 5 February 2018, newspapers reported a nosocomial HIV outbreak in Unnao after multiple HIV-positive tests at health camps on 24-27 January. Many of the infected reported injections from a quack.[1] As of 10 February, 75 HIV infections have been reported in the outbreak, including at least 6 children; testing continues[2].

Pakistan: On 15 February 2018, the Daily Pakistan reported 22 identified HIV infections in Kot Momin. The article reports speculation that treatments by a quack doctor spread HIV.[3]

Director General of India’s National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) misleads and stigmatizes

After a team from India’s National AIDS Control Organization (NACO) visited Unnao on 7 February, the NACO Director, Sanjeeva Kumar said: “The virus can’t survive in the sun beyond a minute, so while a contaminated syringe may have caused stray infections, it cannot lead to a spurt in HIV cases.”

The Director’s statement is dead wrong and dangerous in three ways:

(a) The virus survives for hours in the open air, even when dry (see references at: https://dontgetstuck.org/introduction-3/prevention-lies-and-abuse/what-is-your-risk/).

(b) The comment ignores investigated outbreaks in Russia, Romania, Libya, etc (see references at: https://dontgetstuck.org/cases-unexpected-hiv-infections/).

(c) The NACO’s Director’s comments stigmatize any resident of Unnao who speaks out to say they have an HIV infection from health care — stigmatizing them with suspicion they are promiscuous. Was it the intent of the Director to stigmatize and thereby silence people who might speak out about HIV from healthcare?

Government of Pakistan promises a thorough investigation

Quote from Urdu Point, 17 February 2018:[5] “Punjab Health Minister Khawaja Imran Nazir has said that emergency steps have been taken to control increasing cases of HIV Aids and Hepatitis in and around Kot Imrana near Kotmomin on the directions of Chief Minister Punjab Muhammad Shehbaz Sharif.”

“During his visit to a medical camp set up at the village for collection of blood samples of the area people, the minister said that thousand of samples had been sent to laboratory so far and the report would be received on Feb 20. He said that after receiving of the reports, the affected people would be provided free-of-cost treatment while a well-equipped laboratory for HIV and Hepatitis would be functional at THQ Kotmomin within two weeks.”

References

1. Unnao HIV cases: chief medical officer got alert in July but didn’t act. NYOOZ, 11 February 2018. Available at: https://www.nyoooz.com/news/lucknow/1031130/unnao-hiv-cases–chief-medical-officer-got-alert-in-july-but-didnt-act/ (accessed 21 February 2018).

2. Williams H. Fake doctor infects 75 Indian patients with HIV. World Report Now, 10 February 2018. Available at: https://www.worldreportnow.com/fake-doctor/6754/ (accessed 21 February 2018).

3. Rehman D. The shocking reason AIDS is spreading in this Pakistani village for last 15 years. Daily Pakistan 15 February 2018. Available at: https://en.dailypakistan.com.pk/pakistan/the-shocking-reason-aids-is-spreading-in-this-pakistani-village-for-last-15-years/ (accessed 21 February 2018).

4. Kaul R. Report on Unnao HIV cases: Migrant population unprotected sex among main causes. Hindustan Times, 18 February 2018. Available at: https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/report-on-unnao-hiv-cases-migrant-population-unprotected-sex-among-main-causes/story-Tvi8tsl2qInh51gMrviNPM..html  (accessed 18 February 2018).

5. Shabbir F. Punjab health minister for provision of better health facilities in Kot Momin. Urdu Point, 17 February 2018. Available at: https://www.urdupoint.com/en/health/punjab-health-minister-khawaja-imran-nazir-fo-263040.html (accessed 21 February 2018).

Breaking the silence: asking KfW what it’s doing about HIV from healthcare


In 2011, Grimm and Class[1] urged Germany’s Development Bank (KfW) to pay attention to evidence “an important share of new infections in high prevalence settings occurs through blood exposures in formal and informal healthcare,” and called for “interventions targeted to strengthening the health care system in general and infection control in particular.”

How has KfW responded? Helmut Jager, a medical doctor, initiated an email exchange with KfW to ask just that. He documents the dialogue on his website[2] (for those who can’t read German, here’s a translation tool: https://www.deepl.com/translator).

Questions to KfW on 22 December 2017:

What conclusions did KFW 2012 draw from the analysis of the authors Grimm and Class of 2011?

To your knowledge, have there been epidemiological studies on HIV outbreaks ever since that time…?

What measures does KfW support to prevent iatrogenic and nosocomial infections (especially hepatitis C and HIV)?

Answer by Patrick Rudolph, KfW, Sector Policy Unit Health & Social Protection, on 19 January 2018:

… thank you for your interest in the position and commitment of KfW Entwicklungsbank in the field of infection prevention.

… The key factors for the direction and design of such [HIV] projects are therefore the partner’s sector strategy considerations and the corresponding guidelines of the Federal Government (including the strategy for the control of HIV, hepatitis B and C and other sexually transmitted infections).

We support… a differentiated, demand-oriented and multisectoral approach to HIV prevention depending on the specific micro-epidemiological constellations. This may include measures to prevent both sexual and iatrogenic infections… [I]n South Africa – currently the only country in which the fight against HIV is the focus of German development cooperation in the health sector – the focus is clearly on preventing the sexual transmission of the pathogen…

In response, Dr Jager mailed these additional questions to Dr Rudolph, KfW, on 19 January 2018:

… thank you very much for your reply… Unfortunately, you have not answered my specific questions.

As early as 1990, we had already published that with regard to infections caused by the health care system, the technical equipment of blood banks was not able to solve the quantitatively much bigger problem (unnecessary indications, lack of user hygiene and improper handling of needles and syringes). The consequence of this knowledge should have been investments in the control and prevention of dangerous medical applications. This is evidently not done for the most part…

Are you really sure that…HIV proliferation in South Africa, for example, can only be explained by sexual activity? My doubts intensify among other things a study of 2014 (Kharsany 2014[3]) describing the dynamics of HIV infection of high school students in rural South Africa: 6.8% of girls were infected [including many self-reported virgins]… Where these girls infected themselves with HIV… remained unclear…

As this exchange shows, Dr Jager is challenging those who pay for HIV prevention programs to reconsider their lack of attention to HIV from unsafe healthcare. But Helmut Jager’s website is about a lot more than HIV risks in Africa; I recommend it to anyone with an interest in the history of healthcare, problems in healthcare systems, and future options.

References:

  1. Grimm M, Class D. The fight against HIV/AIDS must be brought into balance. KFW-Development Research: views on development. No 3, 24 June 2011. Available at: https://www.kfw-entwicklungsbank.de/Download-Center/PDF-Dokumente-Development-Research/2011_06_ME_Class-Grimm-The-fight-against-AIDS-must-be-brought-to-balance_E.pdf (accessed 8 February 2018).
  2. Helmut Jager. AIDS in Afrika. Available at: http://www.medizinisches-coaching.net/artikel/medizin/qualitaet_evidenz/aids-in-afrika.html (accessed 8 February 2018).
  3. Karsany ABM, Buthelezi TJ, Frolich JA, et al: HIV infection in high school students in rural South Africa: role of transmission among students. AIDS Res Hum Retroviruses 2014; 30: 956-965. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4179919/ (accessed 9 February 2018).

 

Hepatitis C eradication and profit


Note: This is a guest blog by Helmut Jäger. Dr Jäger’s website and blog provides more information and thoughtful comments on healthcare issues at: http://www.medizinisches-coaching.net/

Good news: hepatitis C can be cured

Since 2016, the World Health Organization recommends treating hepatitis C infection with sofosbuvir (NS5B-Polymerase-inhibitor)The manufacturer (Gilead) demands an extremely high price, and

“.. the public paid twice: for the pharmaceutical research and for the purchase of the product. The enormous profits flow to the Gilead shareholders.”(Roy BMJ 2016, 354: i3718)

The evidence for the effectiveness of direct-acting antivirals (DAA) for chronic hepatitis C comes from short-term trials. Cochrane is unable to determine the effect of long-term treatment with these drugs:

DAAs may reduce the number of people with detectable virus in their blood, but we do not have sufficient evidence from randomised trials that enables us to understand how SVR (sustained virological response: eradication of hepatitis C virus from the blood) affects long-term clinical outcomes. SVR is still an outcome that needs proper validation in randomised clinical trials. (Cochrane 18.09.2017: http://www.cochrane.org/CD012143/LIVER_direct-acting-antivirals-chronic-hepatitis-c.)

Egypt is particularly affected by hepatitis C. Here the government negotiated special discounts with Gilead, so that relatively cheap treatment will be available. It’s the foundation of just another lucrative business based on a man-made disaster.

tourcure

Tour’n Cure: The profitable medical eradication of a problem that would not exist without medicine.

Bad news: Hepatitis C will still be transmitted by skin piercing procedures

About 2-3% of the world’s population is infected with the hepatitis C virus (HCV); 350,000 of these 130-170 million people die per year. HCV causes liver infections, which are chronic in more than 70% of infected persons. That is, they do not completely cure after an infection. After one or maybe two decades, the damaged liver can fail, or develop cancer. The survival rates are low in the late stages of the disease, even under optimal treatment conditions.

Hepatitis C viruses are very sensitive to environmental influences so they are transmitted almost exclusively through blood or blood products or unclean syringes. Unlike hepatitis B or HIV/AIDS, HCV infections through sexual contacts are rare. Hence, the incidence of HCV is an indicator of a dangerous handling of needles, syringes, other medical instruments or products that lead to a direct blood contact. And new cases of HCV are acquired most likely in health care facilities or by intravenous drug use.

Treatment of disease and prevention of new infections 

The World Health Organization (WHO) announced in 2016 that it wants to “combat” hepatitis C and “exterminate” it by 2030. (WHO 2017: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs164/en/)

unsafe-needles

Hazardous needles somewhere in Africa (image: Jäger, Kinsahsa 1988)

WHO’s optimism is caused by the availability of sofosbuvir. The drug is said to have cured up to 90% of affected patients in clinical trials, and consequently was added to the WHO list of essential medicines. The pharmaceutical company Gilead faces a huge global market with high profit margins (WIPO 2015): The treatment costs in the US are US$84,000 and in the Netherlands €46,000. The production cost of the drug is estimated not to exceed US$140.(‘T Hoen 2016)

Most people affected by hepatitis C are poor. They now learn through the media that their suffering could be cured, and at the same time that this solution seems to be unavailable to them. Consequently, they will demand the necessary funds for humanitarian reasons from their governments. Gilead expects sofosbuvir will not be manufactured and sold without a license (about 100 times cheaper). The Indian authorities already concluded in 2016 a license agreement with Gilead, which will guarantee high profit rates on the subcontinent.(‘T Hoen 2016)

Attractive medical products and markets increase the risk of the production of counterfeit medicines

In India, the requirement to allow the production of the hepatitis C drug in the “national interest” license-free is not only risky for legal reasons. India already is the world’s leading producer of fake medicines. Counterfeit drugs look exactly like real ones, but contain nothing (in the best case) or poison. About 35% of the malaria drugs in the African market are fake or useless, and they are mostly from India or China (see below: fake drugs). In the case of Egypt, medical institutions tried to open up a lucrative international market (“Tour’n cure”). Therefore, it will not be long until the first fake “sofosbuvir preparations” are offered.

The history of the hepatitis C epidemic in Egypt

The disaster of hepatitis C contamination started in Egypt more than sixty years ago. Efforts to regulate the Nile increased the risk of schistosomiasis infections. These parasites cause numerous health problems, mostly in the pelvic organs, and in rare cases, cancer. The worm larvae swim in stagnant water that has been contaminated by human urine or feces, and they enter the blood system of healthy people by piercing the skin.

The frequency of these worm infections increased rapidly after 1964, when the fast-flowing Nile was tamed by the Aswan Dam. In a relatively short time 10% of the Egyptian population was colonized by the parasite. The Ministry of Health then treated large parts of the population with injections containing antimony potassium tartrate. Until 1980 this toxic compound was considered the only effective remedy for this worm-infection. Today it is no longer used, not even in veterinary medicine.

Many years after the start of the campaign an initially unexplained epidemic of hepatitis C  was noticed in Egypt. It turned out that most of the patients with hepatitis C virus received anti-schistosomiasis injections.

Those initially infected with hepatitis C virus had higher risks to be treated in health care facilities, where the virus was then transmitted to other patients. Today (according to different estimates) 3-10% of the Egyptian population is infected with hepatitis C, and 40,000 patients die per year with the disease. Because many patients are infected, today the risk to acquire hepatitis C infection in Egyptian health facilities, even in optimal hygenic conditions, is significantly higher than in countries where hepatitis C is relatively rare.(Strickland 2006, WHO 2014)

Hepatitis C epidemic in industrialized countries

But Egypt is not an isolated case. Hepatitis C affects mostly the residents of developing and emerging countries. But even in Germany more than half a million HCV infections are recorded.

In England, in 2015 the government had to apologize for the infection of nearly 3,000 people who received infected blood products between 1970 and 1990.(Wise 2015)

In the US hepatitis C is called a “hidden epidemic” because 300,000 people were infected each year a few decades ago.(Ward 2013, Warner 2015, CDC 2015, RKI 2015, Pozzetto 2014)

Syringes and blood products are dangerous if handled improperly or if they are used although they are not necessary

blood

Blood Bank in Kinshasa (Congo, 1990, image: Jäger)

Needles (in particular the worldwide introduction of disposable syringes and their inflationary use) contributed to the spread of viruses like HCV, HIV and others.(Jäger 1990-92) The problem of the HCV epidemic is caused by the health care system and its waste products that fall into the wrong hands. The causes of the infections mostly are: bad medicine or intravenous drug addiction. What happened in Egypt is just another example that sometimes (medical) solutions of seemingly controllable health problems can lead to much larger problems: because sometimes “the things bite back.”(Tenner 1997, Dörner 2003)

Therefore WHO’s strategy to eradicate hepatitis C, based only on treatments, cannot succeed as long as the much of the medical sectors in many poor countries remain dangerous-purely-commercial and in large parts uncontrolled. The WHO campaign certainly will enrich Gilead and some health institutions, but a reduction of the hepatitis C incidence will not take place if “bad medicine” and “drug addiction” are not targeted, preferably eradicated, or at least reduced.

Unnecessary medicine is risky and should be avoided

WHO and other international health organizations should strive to avoid unnecessary therapeutic skin piercing procedures, injections, surgery and transfusions, and (if these sometimes life saving procedures are necessary) establish strict quality control. The commerce of medical tourism and beauty-interventions (botox, piercing, tattoo) should be strictly controlled.

unsafe-injection

Hazardous needles anywhere else in Africa (image: Jäger)

And we should invest in training patients: They should be supported to reduce their demand for health-care-products and to increase their knowledge in order to distinguish “good” and “bad” medicine.

 More

Literature

Bad Medicine in economically weak countries (such as “fake drugs”):

Why things bite back

Take a look at: Seeking the positives, by John Potterat


In an important contribution to the history of medical research, John Potterat’s new book, Seeking the Positives, recounts his involvement in research on sexually transmitted disease and HIV. Chapter 7 recounts researchers’ failure to explain how so many Africans get HIV (chapter 7 is available for download at http://home.earthlink.net/~jjpotterat/book.html).

The AIDS epidemic has been a disaster for tens of millions of Africans. What has not been widely recognized is the damage to medical research – epidemiologists have not done what is required to show how so many Africans get HIV. In a closed-door meeting at WHO in 2003, John described HIV epidemiological research in Africa as: “First World researchers doing second class science in Third World countries.”

How will the medical research community rebuild competence after its deliberate incompetence in not explaining and thereby containing Africa’s AIDS epidemic?

John’s book offers much more than a history of HIV research failures. He and his staff at the Colorado Springs public health department reduced STD in the community. Working with researchers from CDC and elsewhere, they tested new control strategies and documented what works – demonstrating the importance of contact tracing and network analyses to understand and limit STD transmission. Research in Colorado Springs has had an impact on STD prevention programs around the world.

But this is not only history – the human costs of research failures are continuing. According to the latest UNAIDS’ estimate, 1.4 million Africans got HIV in 2014 (see:http://www.unaids.org/sites/default/files/media_asset/AIDS_by_the_numbers_2015_en.pdf). If someone could tell Africans how they are getting HIV, they might be able to protect themselves and collectively to wind down their epidemic.

I recommend the book for reading in epidemiology classes – to foster truthniks and doubters, so we will have the experts we need in future health crises. When you get the book, I recommend you start with a brief look at Appendix 3, which lists individual and STD/HIV program awards.

Charging HIV-positive husbands and wives with adultry — and lying about it


return to first research page

A wife, husband, and children can be hurt when a gossip — with no evidence — spreads rumors that the wife or husband have lovers.

This situation threatens many HIV-positive married men and women in Africa. HIV prevention programs say most infected adults — including wives and husbands with HIV-negative partners — got HIV from lovers, even if there is no evidence they had lovers, and even if they deny it. Such HIV prevention messages are equivalent to rumors — averring without evidence that people had secret lovers and lied about it.

Researchers have supported such unfounded “rumors.” For example, a UNAIDS-funded study in Zimbabwe followed adults to see who got HIV and what were their risks. After finding and reporting that “[t]hirteen of 67 individuals seroconverting in this study reported no sexual  partners in the inter-survey period..” the authors opined: …misreporting of sexual behaviour may explain some of these infections….”[1]

Wife with HIV, husband without

Many women are victimized by such unsupported suspicions. National surveys in 24 African countries during 2010-14 report the percentages of couples with HIV in one or both partners. In 14 of 24 countries, if a married woman was HIV-positive, more than 50% of husbands were HIV-negative (Table 1). This is not explained by women getting HIV before marriage – even among married women aged 30-39 years, an HIV-positive wife was more likely to have an HIV-negative than an HIV-positive husband in 12 of 24 countries (Table 1).

Table 1: Among married women who are HIV-positive, what % of  husbands are HIV-negative?

wife+ husband-

Sources: Demographic and Health Surveys and AIDS Information Surveys for each country available at: http://www.dhsprogram.com/Where-We-Work/Country-List.cfm (from this link, click on the country and then the survey, and then go to the chapter that reports HIV prevalence).

Seeing such data and recognizing “women’s low self-reported levels of extramarital sex, a World Bank economist opines: “…I conclude that the sizable fraction of discordant female couples is extremely difficult to explain without extramarital sex among married women.”[2]

Most countries in Africa routinely test pregnant women for HIV. Hence, the wife is often the first partner to know her status. If the husband subsequently goes for a test, he is more likely to test HIV-negative than HIV-positive in most countries across Africa.

What is he to think? Should he believe his wife? Or should he believe healthcare professionals (behaving like gossips) who propose his wife lied? It is relevant, as well, that healthcare professionals have a conflict of interest – the alternative to blaming wives for adultery is to acknowledge their HIV may have come from unsafe healthcare.

Husband with HIV, wife without

Similarly, blaming all HIV on sex encourages wives to blame HIV-positive husbands for having lovers and lying about it. In 15 of 24 countries, when the husband is HIV-positive, at least 50% of wives are HIV-negative (see Table 2).

Table 2: Among married HIV-positive men, the % of wives HIV-negative

husband+ wife-
Sources: Demographic and Health Surveys and AIDS Information Surveys for each country available at: http://www.dhsprogram.com/Where-We-Work/Country-List.cfm (from this link, click on the country and then the survey, and then go to the chapter that reports HIV prevalence).

References

1. Lopman, Garnett, Mason, Gregson. Individual level injection history: A lack of association with HIV incidence in rural Zimbabwe. PLoS 2008: Med 2(2): e37. Available at: http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/fetchObject.action?uri=info:doi/10.1371/journal.pmed.0020037&representation=PDF

2. de Walque D. Sero-discordant couples in five African countries: implications for HIV prevention strategies. Pop Dev Review 2007; 33: 501-523. Abstract available at: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1728-4457.2007.00182.x (accessed 28 October 2018).

Cambodia


Roka Commune outbreak

In November 2014, a 74-year old man in Roka Commune, Cambodia, tested HIV-positive. He sent his granddaughter and son-in-law for tests. They also tested positive. Alarmed by these unexpected HIV infections, more residents of Roka Commune went for tests; many were HIV-positive.

The next month, December 2014, Cambodia’s Ministry of Health initiated an investigation with collaboration from WHO, the US CDC, UNAIDS, UNICEF, and the Pasteur Institute in Cambodia.[1]

Three papers report results from this investigation.[2,3,4] Results are limited to 242 persons testing HIV-positive through end-February  2015. Comparing HIV-positive residents with neighbors, infected residents had received more injections, infusions, and blood tests. Reports say nothing about specific failures in infection control (e.g., did providers give injections after changing needles but reusing syringes? did providers give infusions with reused plastic tubes and saline bags?). Many persons were co-infected with hepatitis C, which unsafe healthcare had been spreading in the community for years before the HIV outbreak.

Foreign organizations helping with the investigation sequenced several hundred HIV (determined the order of their constituent molecules) from the community. Almost all sequences were very similar, showing fast transmission from 1 to 198 infections in a few short years. These sequences can be presented as branches in a “tree” (see below, Figure 1). The upper right section of the tree shows the cluster of very similar sequences from Roka. (Most sequences in the lower part of the tree are “controls,” which means the HIV came from other times and places.) The tree shows each HIV infection as the right end-point of a short horizontal line. The left ends of these lines show estimated connections to earlier estimated infections. The timeline at the bottom of the figure shows time going from left to right, showing the estimated dates of transmission from earlier to later infections.

Figure 1: Cluster of 198 infections in Roka, Cambodia, linked by transmissions during 2011-14[5]

env_timetree_baltic (1)

Using information from these reports, one of the managers of this website (DG) estimated the transmission efficiency of HIV through contaminated injection equipment at 4.6%-9.2% (this is the risk that an injection administered to an HIV-positive person during the outbreak transmitted HIV to a subsequent patient).[6]

Other information related to the Roka outbreak

In early 2017, a newspaper article reported 292 infections in the outbreak.[7]

As in many other nosocomial HIV outbreaks, children were on the front lines: 22% of cases were in children <14 years old.[2]

Alerted by the investigation, people looked for unexpected infections and unsafe practices elsewhere in Cambodia. A December 2015 BBC article – one year after Roka broke into public view – reports continued and common unsafe practices.[8] In mid-February 2016, an NGO reported 14 patients testing HIV-positive – 10 from Peam village in Kandal Province, a village of 1,000, and 4 from neighboring villages[9]. The article reported 32 previously known infections in Peam village, for a total of 42 or 4.2% of 1,000 villagers. In interviews, persons newly identified with HIV denied sexual risks and suspected infection from injections by a specified local doctor.

See also these dontgetstuck.org blogs posts

References

1. Eng Sarath. Ministry of Health, Cambodia. 24 December 2014. HIV cases in Sangke district, Battambang. Available at: http://www.cdcmoh.gov.kh/97-hiv-cases-in-sangke-district-battambang

2. Mean Chhi Vun et al. Cluster of HIV infections attributed to unsafe injections  – Cambodia December 1, 2014-February 28, 2015. Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report 2016: 65:  142-145. Available at: http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/65/wr/mm6506a2.htm (accessed 28 March 2016).

3. Saphonn V, Fujita M, Samreth S, et al. Cluster of HIV infections associated with unsafe injection practices in a rural village in Cambodia. J Acquir Immune Defic Syndr 2017; 75: 285-e86. Available at: https://journals.lww.com/jaids/Citation/2017/07010/Cluster_of_HIV_Infections_Associated_With_Unsafe.19.aspx (accessed 12 February 2018).

4. Rouet F, Nouhin J, Zheng D-P, et al. Massive iatrogenic outbreak of human immunodeficiency virus type 1 in rural Cambodia, 2014-2015. Clin Infect Dis 2017; epub ahead of print. Available at: https://academic.oup.com/cid/advance-article-abstract/doi/10.1093/cid/cix1071/4689456?redirectedFrom=PDF (accessed 12 February 2018).

5. Roka/HIV/bayesian_timetree. Evolutionary and epidemiological analysis of the Roka HIV outbreak. Bedford Lab. Available at: https://bedford.io/projects/roka/HIV/bayesian_timetree/ (accessed 15 November 2018). This figure has been copied by permission from Bedford Lab.

6. Gisselquist D. HIV transmission efficiency through contaminated injections in Roka, Cambodia. biorxiv 2017. Available at: https://www.biorxiv.org/content/biorxiv/early/2017/05/15/136135.full.pdf (accessed 12 February 2018).

7. Millar P. How the residents of Cambodia’s “HIV village” are coping more than two years on. Southeast Asia Globe, 15 March 2017. Available at: http://sea-globe.com/how-the-residents-of-cambodias-hiv-village-are-coping-more-than-two-years-on/ (accessed 14 August 2017.

8. John Murphy. BBC, 17 December 2015. A country in love with injections and drips.
Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-35111566

9. Aun Pheap, George Wright. Doctor denies spreading HIV in latest outbreak. Cambodia Daily News 22 February 2016. Available at: https://www.cambodiadaily.com/news/doctor-denies-spreading-hiv-in-latest-outbreak-108791/ (accessed 28 March 2016).

See also:

Kehumile Mazibuko. News Tonight Africa, 4 December 2015. Cambodia: unlicensed medical practitioner sentenced for infecting more than 100 people with HIV. Available at: http://newstonight.co.za/content/cambodia-unlicensed-medical-practitioner-sentenced-infecting-more-100-people-hiv

Khy Sovuthy, Anthony Jensen. Cambodia Daily, 8 December 2015. In HIV case, key evidence trails behind guilty verdict. Available at: https://www.cambodiadaily.com/news/in-hiv-case-key-evidence-trails-behind-guilty-verdict-102320/

Why do UNICEF, WHO, and UNAIDS choose to stigmatize rather than protect African youth?


(return to first research page)

Beginning in early 2015, UNICEF with UNAIDS, WHO, and other organizations initiated the All In to #EndAdolescentAIDS program. The program has some good points – e.g, promoting more HIV testing and better treatment for HIV-positive adolescents.

However, the program is off the mark on prevention. It says nothing about risks adolescents in Africa face to get HIV from blood-contaminated instruments during health care (blood tests, dental care, injections, etc) and cosmetic services (tattooing, manicures, hair styling).

Ignoring such risks while focusing only on sex stigmatizes those who are already infected (aha! you had careless sex!) and misleads those who are HIV-negative to ignore blood-borne risks.

Evidence HIV-positive adolescents did NOT get HIV from sex

The best available evidence – from national surveys – suggests less than half of HIV infections in African adolescents came from sex. For example, in national surveys in Kenya, Lesotho, and Tanzania, majorities of HIV-positive youth aged 15-19 years reported being virgins (Table 1). Across these three countries, 57% (36 of 63) HIV-positive youth in the survey samples reported being virgins.[1]

table 1 adolescents

Some HIV-positive teens may have gotten HIV from their mothers when they were babies; but without antiretroviral treatment (ART), which arrived late in Africa, survival to adolescence would be unusual. Thus most adolescent virgins with HIV likely got it from blood contacts. If virgins are getting HIV that way, some non-virgins are likely getting it the same way.

Using data from national surveys in Lesotho, Swaziland, and Zimbabwe, and assuming no lying about sexual behavior, Deuchert estimates only 30% of HIV-positive never-married adolescent women aged 15-19 years got infected through sex.[2] What if some lied? Deuchart does the math: “The assumption that HIV is predominantly sexually transmitted is valid only if more than 55% of unmarried adolescent women who are sexually active have misreported sexual activity status.” (Tennekoon makes a similar analysis.[3])

But let’s cast the net wider: During 2003-15, 45 national surveys in Africa reported the %s of (self-reported) virgin and non-virgin youth aged 15-24 years with HIV (see Table 2 at the end of this blog post). Young men and women got HIV whether or not they virgins.

For example, in Congo (Brazzaville), Rwanda, Guinea (2012), Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Gambia, the %s of young women that were HIV-positive was greater among virgins than among all young women. Among young men, the % with HIV was the same or greater among virgins vs. all young men in Tanzania (2007-08), Congo (Brazzaville), Sierra Leone (2013), Guinea (2005), Mali, Sao Tome and Principe, Burundi, Benin, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Gambia.

Across all 45 surveys, the median ratio of the %s of self-reported virgin young men with HIV to all young men with HIV was 0.75 (last line, Table 2). Across all 45 surveys, the median ratio of the %s of self-reported virgin young women with HIV to all young women with HIV was 0.33 (last line, Table 2). And, as noted above, many infections in non-virgins likely came from blood-borne risks.

The only way to say most HIV infections in adolescents in Africa come from sex is to throw away the best evidence we have – to assume survey data are wrong because self-reported HIV-positive virgins are lying. That seems to be what experts at UNICEF, WHO, and UNAIDS have done – ignoring evidence to accuse HIV-positive adolescents of unwise sex, and accusing them also of lying if they say they are virgins.

Stigmatizing HIV-positive African youth for unwise sexual behavior is a form of abuse. Because young women are more likely than young men to be exposed to HIV during more frequent health care and cosmetic procedures, not warning about bloodborne risks contributes to unrecognized violence and abuse targeting African women.

table 2d adolescentstable 2e adolescents

References

1. Brewer DD, Potterat JJ, Muth SQ, Brody S. Converging evidence suggests nonsexual HIV transmission among adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa. J Adolescent Health 2007; 40: 290-293. Partial draft available at: https://www.deepdyve.com/lp/elsevier/converging-evidence-suggests-nonsexual-hiv-transmission-among-105k5VXKQE (accessed 19 December 2015).

2. Deuchert E. The Virgin HIV Puzzle: Can Misreporting Account for the High Proportion of HIV Cases in Self-reported Virgins? Journal of African Economics, October 2011, pp 60-89. Abstract available at: http://jae.oxfordjournals.org/content/20/1/60.abstract (accessed 19 December 2015).

3. Tennekoon VSBW. Topics in health economics. PhD dissertation. Washington State U, 2012. Available at: http://research.wsulibs.wsu.edu:8080/xmlui/bitstream/handle/2376/4270/Tennekoon_wsu_0251E_10484.pdf?sequence=1 (accessed 18 December 2015). See also an earlier paper by

 

 

 

 

 

Adding insult to injury: Why do healthcare professionals stigmatize victims of unsafe healthcare with accusations of sexual promiscuity?


I can’t answer the question in the title, and I don’t want an answer. What I want is that healthcare pros stop sliming suffering people with unsupported suspicions and accusations.

In a recent example of this reprehensible behavior, a senior member of Liberia’s Ebola Case Management Team speculated that a Liberian woman identified with Ebola in mid-March – several weeks after the last previous Liberian tested positive for Ebola – might have “had sex with a survivor” (http://abcnews.go.com/Health/wireStory/liberia-investigates-latest-ebola-patient-infected-29805278).

The infected woman has 5 children and a modest job – selling food in the market (http://www.gnnliberia.com/articles/2015/03/22/liberia-int%E2%80%99l-partners-visit-latest-ebola-victims%E2%80%99-home). Having Ebola is a heavy burden for the woman and her family and a threat to her neighbors. For her to be slimed in public – by a government official speculating about her sexual behavior – can only add to their sorrow and confusion.

What is the most likely source of her infection? Based on more than 20 Ebola outbreaks from 1976 to 2015, if the woman has not been caring for someone with Ebola (she hasn’t), she most likely got it from attending a healthcare facility that reused instruments without sterilization. Hundreds of cases of Ebola have been documented from unsafe healthcare, while no – none, nada, zero – cases of Ebola have been traced to sex with a survivor.

Is Liberia’s Ebola Case Management Team considering the possibility the woman got Ebola from a healthcare facility? Very likely, yes. Whereas the Ebola outbreak continues in Sierra Leone and Guinea, Liberia’s outbreak is over or nearly so. Such success is evidence that Liberia’s Ebola Team is competent – that it has recognized and addressed patients’ risks to get Ebola in hospitals and clinics.

Competent, yes, and that’s important. But the Team has been and continues to be unethical in not acknowledging such risks to the public.

A similar assessment applies to experts dealing with HIV in Africa. Consider, for example, that roughly 50% of married HIV-positive women in Africa – over 80% in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sierra Leone – have HIV-negative husbands (data from Demographic and Health Surveys available at: http://dhsprogram.com/What-We-Do/survey-search.cfm?pgtype=main&SrvyTp=country).

Healthcare pros’ repeated assertions that sex is the source of almost all HIV infections in Africa charge all such women with extramarital sex, a charge that is a slur in many cultures. Such sliming is a de facto policy. Virtually all organizations that bankroll HIV prevention in Africa — UNAIDS, WHO, USAID, Gates, and others – require people they fund to aver that almost all HIV infections in Africa come from sex.

Many healthcare pros knowledgeable about HIV are aware of such nonsense. Those who speak out – who are both competent and ethical – have no chance to work on HIV in Africa. They are pushed aside in favor of others who are either ignorant or unethical (or both).

WHO promotes safe injections, but continues to underestimate bloodborne risks


On 23 February, WHO announced its intention to promote auto-disable syringes for curative injections[1]. This is a hugely encouraging response to an HIV outbreak discovered in Roka village, Cambodia, in December 2014 – hundreds of villagers infected through unsafe healthcare.

Unfortunately, WHO’s press release announcing its commitment to promote auto-disable syringes low-balled the risk to get HIV from unsafe health care. The press release cited a recent WHO-sponsored study[2] that estimated unsafe medical injections accounted for less than 1.3% of HIV transmissions in the world in 2010. The authors of that WHO-sponsored study calculated their estimates using a model that depends crucially on an assumed low rate of HIV transmission through contaminated syringes and needles. The authors assumed that if a doctor or nurse injects someone with HIV and then reuses the same syringe and needle – without boiling them – to give you an injection, your risk to get HIV is only 0.32%-0.64%. To support such an assumed low risk, the authors cited similar assumptions from other papers and authors – all of which ignored and/or rejected evidence of transmission during actual outbreaks where medical injections transmitted HIV.

The outbreak in Roka, Cambodia, gives us a chance to test these low-ball assumptions. If the risk to transmit HIV from an HIV-infected patient to a later patient through reused, unsterilized syringes and needles was 0.32%-0.64% only, someone infected with HIV would have to have, on average, 156 (=1/0.0064) to 313 (=1/0.0032) injections after which equipment was reused without sterilization to infect one other person. If the average person living with HIV got 15 injections per year (an absurdly large figure) it would take an average of 10 to 20 years for him or her to transmit HIV to one other person through unsafe injections. People living with HIV would, on average, die before infecting someone through an unsafe injection.

In short, with the transmission efficiencies Pepin and colleagues assumed (in the study cited by WHO’s press release), the outbreak in Roka, Cambodia, was impossible.

For decades, health care authorities who could stop transmission of HIV in health care have chosen not to do so. They have chosen to stick their heads in the sand, to accept ridiculously low assumptions about HIV transmission efficiencies through contaminated instruments, not to warn patients at risk, to give deceitful assurances, etc.

WHO’s endorsement of auto-disable syringes is a step in the right direction. Much more is required to change the trajectory of largely unnecessary and easily preventable HIV epidemics in Africa – eg, outbreak investigations, acknowledging common risks in formal as well as informal health care settings, etc.

1. WHO. WHO calls for worldwide use of “smart” syringes. Press release 23 February 2015. Available at: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/2015/injection-safety/en/ (accessed 24 February 2015).

2. Pepin J, Abou Chakra CN, Pepin E, Nault V, Valiquette L (2014) Evolution of the Global Burden of Viral Infections from Unsafe Medical Injections, 2000–2010. PLoS ONE 9(6): e99677. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0099677. Available at: http://www.plosone.org/article/fetchObject.action?uri=info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0099677&representation=PDF (accessed 24 February 2015).

Cambodian HIV tragedy: Investigate to treat, protect, and prevent HIV


On 16 December, newspapers reported more than 80 residents of a Cambodian village had tested HIV-positive in recent weeks. As of 20 December the reported number testing positive reached 140. Testing is continuing, so that number will likely increase further.

“The crisis began in late November, when a 74-year-old man from Roka tested positive for HIV at the Roka Health Center, according to a statement from Cambodia’s Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization. After receiving the result, the man then sent his granddaughter and son-in-law for testing. They also tested positive for the virus. The man then informed other villagers who had been treated by [an unregistered doctor] to get tested for HIV. After that, the number of cases steadily rose” (quote from: http://www.wsj.com/articles/worries-mount-that-hiv-infections-in-cambodian-village-could-rise-1419062070).

Outbreaks such as this are not unusual (see: http://dontgetstuck.org/cases-unexpected-hiv-infections/). What is unusual is that this one is recognized. It will be even more unusual if it is thoroughly investigated and reported.

An investigation can limit health damage.
1. Limit damage to the victims. Test widely to find as many victims as possible. Then ensure they get good treatment so they can look forward to a near-normal life.
2. Limit damage to others. Investigate to find the specific risks so they can be stopped, not only in this village but in thousands of similar situations in Asia and Africa. Did HIV go through saline infusions, intra-muscular injections, vaccinations, what? When the routes are identified in this outbreak, tell the public at risk in Cambodia and elsewhere so they can help to develop responses to protect themselves and others.

These two challenges can be satisfied with a no-fault investigation. The investigation could be modeled on a truth commission. People who might have been involved in transmission can be asked to cooperate – to report (confess) procedures that might have been unsafe and to report who they treated – in return for a promise not to prosecute.

What can be distracting in an investigation are efforts to pin the blame on one or more people, to put them in prison or sue them. Fear closes doors – what we need are open doors to find what went wrong and fix it. Yes, there is a lot of careless behavior in clinics and hospital – but many who are careless do not realize the risks because they have been confused by lies, eg, that HIV dies in seconds outside the body.

If careless people are to be prosecuted, should we start at the top? Leaders of the health aid industry know health care is often unsafe in much of Asia and Africa and yet support the delivery of invasive procedures without warning the public and without insisting on outbreak investigations to find and stop careless errors. Since it’s unlikely anyone will try to prosecute people at the top, let’s not scapegoat people at the bottom for careless behavior.

A good example of a failed investigation is what happened in Jalalpur Jattan, Pakistan, six years ago (see: http://dontgetstuck.org/pakistan-cases-and-investigations/). In 2008, a local NGO tested 246 people in the community, finding 88 to be infected. This got the attention of Pakistan’s National Institute of Health, which assigned Pakistan’s Field Epidemiology & Laboratory Training Program (FELTP) to investigate, with assistance from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Government charged FELTP to: “determine the extent and chain of transmission” and to “identify…sites of potential transmission.”

FELPT’s investigators did neither. They began with a list of 20 HIV-positive people provided by the government hospital, traced relatives, and looked for people with stigmatized behaviors (sex work, male-male sex, injection drug use). Because the “investigation” did not test the general population it could not determine the extent of transmission or sites of transmission. The report added insult to injury with stigmatizing sexual fantasies: “there may be hidden extramarital and unsafe sexual practices in the community which were difficult to unveil” (see p 51 in: https://dontgetstuck.files.wordpress.com/2012/02/feltp-investigation.pdf).

In Cambodia, let’s hope for an investigation that prioritizes finding and caring for victims (see: https://en-maktoob.news.yahoo.com/families-devastated-cambodia-hiv-outbreak-100523638.html) and preventing more victims – and that does not insult victims with accusations of stigmatized behaviors.