Connect with us

Focus

Celebrating Mandela From Where It All Began; Soweto

mm

Published

on

Almost every morning, I awaken to the sounds of the dogs barking, birds chirping and loud vuvuzelas (plastic horns) alerting the neighborhood that it’s safe to leave home for work. Thieves and vagrants roam the streets to snatch wallets, handbags, anything, on these misty winter mornings.

This is the day unfurling in Soweto, South Africa’s biggest township. Soweto, famously, is an acronym for ‘southwestern township’.

Soweto was not a township back in 1918; it was merely a place where the black oppressors built 20 matchbox-sized houses for squatters and with no electricity or water, just an outdoor tap. Imagine the cold winter mornings then.

As a millennial living in Soweto today, I enjoy the same trappings – hot showers and electric blankets – as the dwellers in Africa’s richest square mile Sandton, a mere half-hour drive away.

In the hall of fame, if Johannesburg and Cape Town are regarded as South Africa’s maximum cities, so is my Soweto, a city in its own right, a city with history, a personality, even its own language and ethos, segregated from the rest.

“Soweto was initially a dormitory location when it started,” says Omar Badsha, a 73-year-old documentary photographer and CEO of South African History Online.

“It was a segregated place which included people of all classes…lower middle class people were also dumped in Soweto. Over time, in the 1970s, it grew into the largest township in Africa as a segregated space and remains a segregated space. It has evolved into a vibrant city with supermarkets, malls and a vibrant youth culture. There are two to three generations who call themselves Sowetans because they lost their links to the rural areas. They created their own social and political ethos, and a language; tsotsitaal. This is a unique aspect of that segregated space. Now there is a very cultural landscape having the first Soweto Jazz Festival.”

I too, am a Sowetan first, a South African second.

This is an identity that many of us, born and bred in Soweto, proudly wear as a badge of honor. It is this multicultural township that characterizes our way of life. Our dialects differ from where our forefathers originated; the farmlands. Our dialects now are one.

Legends were born in Soweto, many lived and died here. I live in Soweto, in the here and now.

On July 18, South Africa’s first black president, struggle hero, anti-apartheid activist and global icon, the late Nelson Mandela would have celebrated his 100th birthday.

Soweto was once his home. This is where he came from Qunu, a small rural village in South Africa’s Eastern Cape Province. He wed the late activist and politician Winnie Madikizela-Mandela and it is here they lived, in house number 8115, a tiny red-brick house, now a museum called Mandela House.

Mandela was arrested in Rivonia, on a farm about 50km from Soweto, in 1964, convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for treason.

READ MORE: http://www.forbesafrica.com/focus/2013/12/01/rose-soweto-rose/

A human rights lawyer and member of the African National Congress (ANC), he would travel from Soweto every day to work in Johannesburg’s Central Business District.

From Soweto, I travel twice the distance daily to work in affluent Sandton, where multi-million rand apartments soar into the skies.

The air is fresher here, in contrast to the squalid, sewage-smelling, potholed landscape of Soweto.

Yet, to celebrate Mandela, we have to first start from Soweto – where it all began.

A struggle hero who unwittingly took Soweto to the world. Soweto was etched into Mandela’s destiny even before South Africa was. It was a place marked with an ‘X’ in his mental geography.

 

Township revitalization

The Orlando Towers in Soweto is prominent site offering advertising and adventure

Like most cities and towns, Soweto has its own landmark, the Orlando Towers, constructed in 1955, around the time when blacks were forcibly removed from the multiracial, vibrant Sophiatown during the apartheid era. These towers were built as coolants for coal because the demand for electricity was on the rise in Johannesburg for white homes and businesses. After over 50 years of service, the station was decommissioned.

The saying, when Soweto sneezes, South Africa catches flu, holds true.

On the cold morning of June 16, 1976, students gathered to march to Orlando Stadium protesting the teaching of Afrikaans in school. This resulted in the police firing at students; 13-year-old Hector Pieterson was shot dead. News traveled and aghast at the black-and-white images of the atrocities, the world pressured South Africa to change policies.

At the time, Soweto was still a ghost town, dark and gloomy. On those same paths, we now walk freely under bright street lights, and by a shiny world-class mall built by Richard Maponya, a business mogul who used to sell milk on a bicycle in Soweto in his youth.

The mall is adorned with an elephant at the main entrance. The R650 million ($48 million) mall boasts more than 200 stores and a cinema complex that opened in 2007. Mandela did the honors of cutting the red ribbon.

“I am very proud of the mall. It can stand anywhere in the world and compete. I am proud I have built something for the people of Soweto because I have always wanted it to be an economic hub,” Maponya said of his eponymous mall in the March 2017 issue of FORBES AFRICA.

The twin Orlando Towers, minutes from the luxurious mall, double as an advertising tower and a space for mural art, the largest in Soweto.

The towers are a tourist destination attracting thousands of travelers and locals all year round. They are also known as Soweto Towers, offering adrenaline-driving adventure activities such as bungee jumping, rock-climbing and SCAD (Suspended Catch Air Device) freefall.

I visited the towers for the time last month; embarrassing for someone who has lived in Soweto for 30 years. I meet the site manger Laurence Sithole.

“The company was founded by Bob Woods. He was contracted to install railings on top of the towers for painting and advertising. For them to be able to paint, they had to be able to hood their baskets onto the railings. It took him about seven years to get approval to start this in 2008,” offers Sithole.

Woods leased the space and it’s currently owned by the Joburg Property Company.

Sithole was one of 15 black youths from Soweto hired for the bungee jump operator’s job which included inhouse training. These youngsters were first-timers in the adventure industry.

“I was 22 years old at the time. I remember we were saying to each other, ‘in Soweto, the whole of Soweto, we are the only team that does this [adventure activities]’, so we were very excited about it. Looking at the equipment, I remember we couldn’t pronounce a carabina. Everything was just exciting,” says Sithole.

When the business started, they would have as few as two jumpers a day.

“Unfortunately, Woods died in 2010 – the year of the FIFA World Cup hosted in South Africa – just before the site picked up, literally, two months after his death, we started getting busy and we’d find cars parked waiting for us to open,” he recalls.
Today, the business sees as many as 100 bunjee jumps a day at R550 ($41) per person. Soweto Towers’ Vertical Adventure Centre is the only one providing such services in Soweto.

Would you find anything similar in any other African township?

About 5kms from the towers, is the world-famous Vilakazi Street, once home to two Nobel Peace Prize-winning icons, Mandela and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

This is also an enterprising entrepreneurial space for men and women, offering everything from art and fashion to snacks and snakes.

It takes me less than a minute before I see an urban building to my left, The Box Shop, created primarily for locals but with international tourists streaming in and out.

Launched as a fashion store in 2015 employing about 11 staff, it has extended its retail offerings to furniture and food – mouth-watering delicacies such as mogodu (lamb or beef tripe).

Sifiso Moyo, the marketing director of The Box Shop, is one of the store’s four founders who decided to open the store on Vilakazi Street.

“It was a combination of things that made us pursue Vilakazi; we looked at the Gauteng government mandate in terms of revitalizing townships, so we looked at how we are going to align ourselves with that strategy and contribute positively to the dream of township revitalization,” says Moyo.

I walk again for three minutes, and stop, as I see a gentleman with a snake around his neck. I step forward to make sure I am not imagining things.

It is a snake, a real one, a red-tailed boa. After introducing myself to the gentleman, he directs me to the house to meet his mother, Lindiwe Mngomezulu.

Mngomezulu’s business is offering tourists a snake show, called the Soweto Live Snake Show. The inspiration for it came after she joined a snake club in Edenvale, east of Johannesburg, South Africa.

Suitably entertained, I continue my journey down the snaking avenues of Vilakazi Street.

I speak to one of the vendors a few feet from Mandela House. Bongane Ngcobo sells t-shirts, caps and African art. An entrepreneur, he says he makes about R4,000 ($282) on a good day and about R200 ($17) otherwise.

As I stroll further down, the street gets busier. I am drawn to a group of idling youngsters outside an art gallery named Shova Lifestyle Origin.

Thabo Modise, the owner here, started off selling t-shirts in the streets of Soweto; now he owns the gallery and the boutique next to it.

“It is a lifestyle boutique, where we have local fashion designers showing their work and we have a gallery for locals to do the same,” says Modise. He is an entrepreneurial success on Vilakazi Street.
Speaking of entrepreneurship and economy, Moipone Molotsi, Director of the Centre for Small Business Development at the University of Johannesburg in Soweto, says the township economy is money circulating in the township and benefiting people within the township.

I ask her if there has been any growth in the township since Mandela’s death.

“People have moved from tenders and come up with business models that will raise income every single day. That is the change but it is moving very slowly,” she says.

So there is a shift from tenderpreneurship to entrepreneurship.

 

Taking Soweto to the world

Entrepreneurship is the mantra. Take this group of young men from Soweto who have portrayed it positively using imagery.

They are childhood friends who found themselves merging advertising, photography and film, calling themselves, I See A Different You (ISADY). They are Innocent Mukheli, Fhatuwani Mukheli, Ongama Zazayokwe and Vuyo Mpantsha.

“In 2011, Innocent went to Kenya for a photoshoot. While he was there, he sent us a picture of a guy on a motorbike, that guy was too cool, he was wearing sandals. We didn’t believe that was shot in Kenya and we realized to ourselves that if that is how we see Kenya, imagine how other Africans see Africa. We have been fed so much negativity on the continent,” say Zazayokwe and Mpantsha.

Their ideology changed and a brand was born.

“I See A Different You started off as a movement that changes people’s perceptions about Soweto and Africa,” says Mpantsha.

Indeed, they have done so, and their first start was Soweto. Now, they have moved to other parts of Africa and the world.

I was watching television with the family a few years ago when a commercial come on. We loved it because we could relate. It brought nostalgia, memories of wanting to go watch TV in a neighbour’s house because we had limited channels. This commercial was about soccer. Despite the humour and hint of economic struggle, the advert was about humanity and selflessness, in allowing the unprivileged neighbors to watch soccer.

I believe that is something Mandela would have done. This advert was a DStv campaign, #NiceLifeProblems, communicating to South Africans in their language.

“When brands brief us to create content of whatever they are selling at the time, they use us because we change the narrative on how they show black people and how they tell black stories through advertising,” says Mpantsha.

Driving to work from Soweto, I never miss ISADY’s latest work with the whiskey brand, Scottish Leader. It is a billboard on the Soweto highway positioned prominently as you exit the township. These billboards are to be found across South Africa with different images.

The billboard is on the road that leads to the world-class FNB stadium in Nasrec, Soweto. This stadium was designed as the main stadium for the 2010 FIFA World-Cup and is the largest in Africa. It housed the final match between Netherlands and Spain. Mandela recited his first speech after his release in 1990 in this very stadium, but it also served as a memorial venue after his death in 2013.

Back to ISADY’s billboards.

“It’s just like the whiskeys, there’s three whiskeys: one is smoky, one is smoother and the other is spicy. That is why the billboards are different; it’s about seeing a new perspective,” says Mpantsha.
ISADY has exhibited works in others parts of the world. Taking Africa To The World was exhibited in Japan; it looks at the positives of Soweto.

And then Mpantsha says it, speaking my mind, speaking for all Sowetans taking Soweto to the world:

“Soweto is in our DNA.”

And there are more worldwide, acknowledging this fact, be it in Soweto or Spain.

Enos Mafokate, the first black showjumper in South Africa and an Olympic athlete at Barcelona, runs the only equestrian club in Soweto today.

In 2007, Mafokate realized his dream of opening his own riding stable in Soweto. At the Soweto Equestrian Foundation, Mafokate trains more than 60 children with 20 horses and ponies. The club also trains disabled children.

“It provides therapy for both mentally and physically unstable children and that is working magic,” says Mafokate.

Creative economy

The Triology Dance Crew at The World Dance. Photograph by Motlabana Monnakgotla.

Sport can be therapy, but what is Soweto without its vibrant culture: its art, music, dance or fashion.

I meet with a dance crew from Soweto I hadn’t seen in a long time at a dance competition in Johannesburg. Although a few members are new, their style hasn’t changed.

“We specialize in music, fashion and dance, but our main focus is dance. We call our dance Sbujwa. Sbujwa is a dance culture from Soweto; it started in the early 2000s just as a way of dressing and gradually over time it became a dance genre,” says group choreographer Blessing Dhlamini.

Dhlamini goes on to say that they wouldn’t be dancing for a living if Mandela hadn’t won us freedom.

The group recently won a Crowd Favourites award and came sixth at the World Of Dance in South Africa.

From day to night, would Soweto be complete without a vignette of its bustling nightlife?

I call up an old neighbor, Mncedisi Mnguni, also known as DJ Big Sky, one of Soweto’s biggest DJs and entrepreneurs who recently conducted a United Kingdom tour playing alongside musicians Black Coffee, Ralf Gum and Charles Webster, among others.

“Soweto is very huge, it’s like an entire city. A lot of people come from outside the ’hood come jam in the ’hood. It’s very vibrant and it’s still growing. Just look at Vilakazi Street, it’s no longer a street, it’s a precinct. It has informal trading and formal establishments like the restaurants plus the tourist attractions, just in that street alone,” he says.

Soweto has its flaws like any suburb, town or city. The night can also reveal its peripatetic ugly street layers. Soweto is no saint. But neither am I, neither was Mandela.

Focus

What does it mean to be HIV-undetectable or to have a suppressed viral load?

Published

on

With medication and technology, science is increasingly improving the lives of people living with HIV and reducing new infections.


On August 8, 2018, a day before Women’s Day in South Africa, 23-year-old Saidy Brown observed six years of being on antiretroviral (ARV) treatment. 

We meet Brown in her hotel room in Benoni in the East Rand in the South African Province of Gauteng.

She sits still, reflecting on her life after a long and busy day. She has just returned from a group meeting with other young HIV activists.

Her t-shirt is unapologetic and as loud as her activism. “HIV POSITIVE #TEST & TREAT,” it reads. In the dim light of her room, she recollects her dark journey to becoming an HIV activist.

Brown was diagnosed with HIV at birth. However, she only found out she had it at the age of 14.

Brown grew up in a small town called Itsoseng in the North West Province of South Africa. In June 2009, while attending a youth day event, Brown and some of her friends decided to get tested for free.

The eager teen received some pre-counselling from one of the nurses.

“I remember getting into that room and the lady asked me two questions, ‘what would you do if you find out that you are HIV negative’?”

“I would continue living,” Brown said.

“What will you do if you find out you are HIV positive?”

“I would go out there and educate people living with HIV,” she said to the nurse.

Brown tested positive. Her whole life changed in the space of five minutes.

“After she told me, the first thing I said was ‘how? I didn’t do anything, I am only 14’.”

While her friends were discussing their results, Brown broke the news to them. They were all surprised.


Saidy Brown’s t-shirt is unapologetic and as loud as her activism. “HIV POSITIVE #TEST & TREAT,” it reads. Picture: Karen Mwendera

“I then told them ‘no, I’m kidding, I am negative’.”

Brown was ashamed and could not confide in anyone.

“I really wanted to go home and cry. Like, I didn’t even know where I got it from,” Brown says.

She was afraid of what her family, friends and community would think of her. For months, she kept it to herself. But the secret about her health was too overwhelming.

Later that year, Brown joined a drama club. They rehearsed for a play to be staged on  World AIDS Day, on December 1. She played the daughter of a woman who was HIV positive.

Little did her peers know that Brown was actually telling her real life story. A few days later, conversations with Brown’s drama teacher got her to divulge her secret.

She later gathered up the courage to confide in her aunt. Her aunt then revealed that Brown’s late parents had indeed been HIV positive.

“I was angry at my aunt for not having tested me earlier on, I was angry at my parents for having died before me knowing, I was angry at God, I was just angry at everyone,” she says.

She turned to writing to cope.  The first piece she wrote was titled An Open Letter To HIV.

“I will always remember this line because I paused there and I cried so much. There is a line where I said, ‘because of you I feel less pretty’.”

This marked the beginning of her activism. She shared the letter on social media and it reached thousands.

For 14 years, Brown had lived a healthy life with the disease without any treatment. Brown disclosed her status to close friends and received huge support.

It was only when she turned 18 that her health began to deteriorate. Hesitant to start treatment, Brown thought about the rumors she heard about the side-effects of ARV.

When she went for blood tests, she was told her CD4 count had dropped. According to experts, when the CD4 count drops below 200, a person is diagnosed with Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS).

READ MORE |The Fight for Rights: Five Gains and Five Losses for Women in 2018

“I think that was when reality started kicking in that ‘you need to be on treatment’,” she says.

In 2012, she finally started ARV treatment. Since then, Brown has been living a healthy life

She uses her experience to encourage others living with HIV and to break the stigma. In June 2017, she recited An Open Letter To HIV at the eighth South African AIDS Conference addressing HIV/AIDS and gender-based violence.

She held governments and societies accountable.

The same year, she received the Red Ribbon Foundation Youth for Change HIV/AIDS Activist Award.

In 2018, she was recognized as one of the Mail & Guardian 200 Young South Africans, for her work as an activist.

Brown considers herself an “HIVictor” and reaches thousands on her social media platform spreading awareness about the disease.

“There is life after an HIV diagnosis,” Brown shared with her followers on Twitter.

HIV-Undetectable

Today, Brown is HIV-undetectable.

She has been virally suppressed for two years now.

According to a report by UNAIDS in 2018, being undetectable means that the virus is un-transmittable.

This means that people who are HIV positive with an undetectable viral load cannot transmit HIV sexually.

This was proven in 2017.

Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl is a clinician and general practitioner with a special interest in HIV and women’s health.

She also uses her social media to spread awareness on the disease.

Dr Sindisiwe van Zyl. Picture: Supplied

“The aim of ARV treatment is to achieve an undetectable or suppressed viral load. What is the viral load? It is the number of HIV copies in the blood. HIV uses CD4 cells to make copies of itself. If one is taking ARV treatment, the efficacy of the treatment is proven by an undetectable viral load. You’re still living with HIV, but you’re taking the treatment so well that the virus cannot make copies of itself,” she tells FORBES AFRICA.

“The viral load blood test tells us when undetectable levels have been reached and it takes 12 to 24 weeks to achieve this,” Van Zyl says.

Three significant studies were done between 2007 and 2016 on sexual transmission of HIV among thousands of couples.

According to UNAIDS: “In those studies, there was not a single case of sexual transmission of HIV from a virally-suppressed person living with HIV to their HIV-negative partner.”

“For many people living with HIV, the news that they can no longer transmit HIV sexually is life-changing. In addition to being able to choose to have sex without a condom, many people living with HIV who are virally suppressed feel liberated from the stigma associated with living with the virus,” UNAIDS says.

However, the stigma still does exist.

A 28-year-old millennial, who requested not be named, tells FORBES AFRICA that she had never heard of what it means to ‘undetectable’.

When asked if she would be willing to have sexual relations with someone who was HIV positive but their viral load was undetectable, she says she is unsure.

“I would but I would be worried because mistakes happen. What if medical practitioners thought it was undetectable but they made a mistake and now my life is at risk,” she asks.

She is not alone in thinking this way.

From a quick social media search, it is evident many users are not well-informed about what an undetectable viral load means.

Some social media users who disclosed to be living with HIV said that even their own doctors had not informed them about what it meant to be ‘HIV undetectable’.

Through hashtags such as #UequalsU and #UndetectableEqualsUntransmittable, awareness around being ‘HIV undetectable’ has spread globally, giving freedom to many HIV positive people to share their status.

“[These are] the hashtags of the century, in my opinion! What does #UequalsU mean? If the viral load is undetectable, then one cannot transmit HIV!” Van Zyl says.

It is such activism that has contributed to the strides in HIV research.

A doctor from the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre in Johannesburg agrees.

“I think that’s what makes the HIV space unique. Those activists are crucial… When patients talk, they talk as if they don’t have a voice, but with the activists, they have a voice and they are taken seriously and I think that has also been one of the big drivers,” Dr June Fabian, a nephrologist and clinical researcher at the medical center, tells FORBES AFRICA.

Transplanting to save a life

Two years ago, doctors from the transplant unit at the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre performed what is believed to be the world’s first HIV positive liver transplant.

Currently, the center is the only transplant program doing transplants from one living person to another in southern Africa. 

The liver of a mother living with HIV was transplanted into her critically-ill HIV negative child.

After the transplant, the child was monitored and the doctors were not able to find HIV within the child’s system.

The child had been on a waiting list for more than 180 days and was frequently admitted for life-threatening complications of end-stage liver disease.

Professor Jean Botha led the procedure.

He was approached by the child’s mother to consider using her as her baby’s donor.

“We have had a case where we proposed the idea but the mom said, ‘I cannot live thinking that I’ll give HIV to my child’, and she said ‘no’, and the baby died,” Fabian, who was a part of the team, says.

It was a very complex situation.

They reviewed the implications of the transplant, consulted with other experts and then spoke to the ethics committee at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits).

“They came back and said, ‘if you are weighing up this child dying versus giving the child HIV then do it because, obviously, you want to prevent the child from dying’,” Fabian explains.

With the go-ahead, the team proceeded with the operations and assumed that the child would have the virus after the procedure.

But their assumptions were wrong.

“After the transplantation, we saw a seroconversion event. What that means is that the child became HIV positive,” Professor Caroline Tiemessen from the Wits School of Pathology and Centre for HIV and STIs, National Institute for Communicable Diseases, said in a report.

Soon after, they observed that the virus was no longer detectable. They then monitored the child’s antibodies and tested the viral load, however, she said it has remained undetectable since.

They have since not been able to trace the virus within the cells of the child.

“The liver is an immune organ so it’s the liver’s job to kill bugs… so I think in a way we might have struck it lucky with the liver. I don’t know if we can say what happened here is going to happen with a heart, a kidney or a lung,” Fabian says.

Despite not being able to detect the virus, the child was placed under ARV treatment.

Fabian says the only way to know for sure that there is no HIV in the child is if they completely stop treatment.

However, it would be a risk.

In 2017, a similar case was announced where a nine-year-old South African who had been diagnosed with HIV at a month old, received treatment, and then maintained remission after suppressing the virus for almost nine years without the treatment since 2008.

It has been more than a year since the liver transplant took place and both the mother and child are recovering well.

According to Fabian, they plan to continue doing more tests.

HIV Positive: The New Living Donor Pool?

At a time when South Africa is experiencing a shortage of organ donors, this may be a solution to the problem if people living with HIV may be able to donate organs.

In the early 2000s, Fabian’s work dealt with organ transplants and HIV before ARVs were created.

“We started seeing the disease untreated, and there was a lot of kidney disease so that was what sparked my interest and I started a study in the clinic with patients with HIV and kidney disease,” she says.

However, HIV patients back then were excluded from transplantation.

“We were basically throwing away organs from HIV-positive donors because we weren’t using them,” she says.

Dr June Fabian. Picture: Supplied

With a shortage of organ donors, Fabian says they lost 25 children on the waiting list.

According to an article by theSouthAfrican.com, there are around 4,300 people waiting for organ donations in South Africa in need of new livers, kidneys, lungs or hearts.

“The inclusion of HIV-infected people as living donors created the new living donor pool,” say experts from the Wits Donald Gordon Medical Centre.

This means that people like Brown who have been living with an undetectable viral load could be eligible as donors after tests have been done.

As for whether or not HIV-positive patients could potentially become blood donors, more work needs to be done in that field.

At the moment, Fabian does not think it is possible.

 “I don’t know if you would put someone on life-long antiretroviral for a blood transfusion. I don’t think the benefit outweighs the risk when you can source blood from non-infected donors and the person isn’t going to die if they don’t get the transfusion,”  Fabian says.

The evolution of ARVs

The first ARV treatment trial happened in the 1990s and in 2004, South Africa first rolled out its ARV program to people living with HIV.

ARV treatment has gone from taking several tablets a day to one pill daily.

 Now, patients, particularly in South Africa, can receive free treatment.

According to a report on HIV and AIDS financing by the South African Health Review, South Africa has the largest number of persons living with HIV and on ARV-treatment in the world, with this figure scaling up by approximately 400,000 persons per annum.

UNAIDS estimates there are 20% of people on ARV therapy globally.

HIV-related deaths have been decreasing as the number of people receiving ARVs is growing.

In 2008, the death rate was about 220,000 to 260,000 in South Africa.

In 2016, estimates between 96,000 to 140,000 of AIDS-related deaths in the country were reported.

“I think what is underappreciated is how much people’s lives have changed with ARVs and with access to ARVs and how much the science and the funding with ARVs has driven it from being a very complicated regimen to one tablet a day,” Fabian says.

And now, access to obtaining ARVs has become easier and they are getting smaller.

“The tablet is getting smaller and smaller, which is great for storage, great for carrying, makes it cheaper, it’s also easier to swallow,” says Professor Francois Venter, the Deputy Executive Director at the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute.

Last year, South Africa saw the introduction of an ATM which uses electronic and robotic technology to dispense medication.

This allows patients to collect medication without having to queue at hospitals.

On the continent, clinical trials of injectable ARV drugs are currently underway.

This is part of a large-scale trial that will be conducted in six other countries –Kenya, Malawi, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Swaziland.

According to a news report in The East African, the aim of the study is to introduce an injection once every two months.

“They are starting to work on a new implant. It is very early days but it is very, very exciting. So instead of taking your ARVs you just get an implant every year,” Venter says.

“ARVs are looking more and more like hormonal contraception … It is like having several choices.”

He predicts that they will become available in the next five to 10 years.

 Other new developments include the HIV vaccine trial (please read more on pages 44-47).

 As HIV research grows rapidly, Fabian says that other chronic disease studies can gain from its developments.

“If you look at how we manage TB [tuberculosis], there is very little progress that has been anywhere as rapid as HIV, in terms of making treatment accessible and simple for people,” Fabian says.

Venter agrees: “The funny thing is people with HIV are now living longer than the general population in certain spaces.”

A study in the United States found this to be true.

In 2014, an estimated 45% of those HIV-infected were older than 50, amounting to 428,724 people, while 27% were older than 55 and 6% were 65 and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, more work still needs to be done in this regard.

Venter says that technology has significantly aided HIV research.

“There are new ways to measure HIV which are getting more available and the price is coming down,” he says.

“There are also new ways for testing for HIV which are very exciting.”

“Because the cost of antiretrovirals has gone down so dramatically, HIV is actually relatively cheap to treat, compared to diabetes,” he says.

“It also keeps people away from the medical system which is very expensive,” he adds.

Despite the great strides taken to improve HIV treatment, a cure is still nowhere to be found.

“I think we are getting closer [to a cure] with vaccines,” Fabian says, hopeful.

Venter, on the other hand, believes we are still far from discovering a cure.

“I am not particularly hopeful because I think the scientific challenges of it are so hard that I am not sure it is going to be possible, but I hope I am wrong,” Venter says.

He says that there have been large amounts of money diverted to looking for a cure and that we are learning more about the immune system.

Professor Francois Venter. Picture:Supplied

“Even if we may not find a cure, we are going to learn a lot about vaccines and the complexity of the human body,” he says.

For now, the importance of spreading awareness is still essential. Activists like Brown and Van Zyl can attest to that.

The world has gone from a deadly epidemic, to undetectable victories and vaccines in three decades.

We are witnesses to history in the making. Where will you be when a cure is found?

Continue Reading

Focus

Software Pirates Use Apple Tech To Put Hacked Apps On iPhones

Published

on

By

Software pirates have hijacked technology designed by Apple Inc to distribute hacked versions of Spotify, Angry Birds, Pokemon Go, Minecraft and other popular apps on iPhones.

Illicit software distributors such as TutuApp, Panda Helper, AppValley and TweakBox have found ways to use digital certificates to get access to a program Apple introduced to let corporations distribute business apps to their employees without going through Apple’s tightly controlled App Store.

Using so-called enterprise developer certificates, these pirate operations are providing modified versions of popular apps to consumers, enabling them to stream music without ads and to circumvent fees and rules in games, depriving Apple and legitimate app makers of revenue.

By doing so, the pirate app distributors are violating the rules of Apple’s developer programs, which only allow apps to be distributed to the general public through the App Store. Downloading modified versions violates the terms of service of almost all major apps.

TutuApp, Panda Helper, AppValley and TweakBox did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Apple has no way of tracking the real-time distribution of these certificates, or the spread of improperly modified apps on its phones, but it can cancel the certificates if it finds misuse.

“Developers that abuse our enterprise certificates are in violation of the Apple Developer Enterprise Program Agreement and will have their certificates terminated, and if appropriate, they will be removed from our Developer Program completely,” an Apple spokesperson told Reuters. “We are continuously evaluating the cases of misuse and are prepared to take immediate action.”

After Reuters initially contacted Apple for comment last week, some of the pirates were banned from the system, but within days they were using different certificates and were operational again.

“There’s nothing stopping these companies from doing this again from another team, another developer account,” said Amine Hambaba, head of security at software firm Shape Security.

Apple confirmed a media report on Wednesday that it would require two-factor authentication – using a code sent to a phone as well as a password – to log into all developer accounts by the end of this month, which could help prevent certificate misuse.

Major app makers Spotify Technology SA, Rovio Entertainment Oyj and Niantic Inc have begun to fight back.

Spotify declined to comment on the matter of modified apps, but the streaming music provider did say earlier this month that its new terms of service would crack down on users who are “creating or distributing tools designed to block advertisements” on its service.

Rovio, the maker of Angry Birds mobile games, said it actively works with partners to address infringement “for the benefit of both our player community and Rovio as a business.”

Niantic, which makes Pokemon Go, said players who use pirated apps that enable cheating on its game are regularly banned for violating its terms of service. Microsoft Corp, which owns the creative building game Minecraft, declined to comment.

SIPHONING OFF REVENUE

It is unclear how much revenue the pirate distributors are siphoning away from Apple and legitimate app makers.

TutuApp offers a free version of Minecraft, which costs $6.99 in Apple’s App Store. AppValley offers a version of Spotify’s free streaming music service with the advertisements stripped away.

The distributors make money by charging $13 or more per year for subscriptions to what they calls “VIP” versions of their services, which they say are more stable than the free versions. It is impossible to know how many users buy such subscriptions, but the pirate distributors combined have more than 600,000 followers on Twitter.

Electronic Arts’ new game challenges Fortnite

Security researchers have long warned about the misuse of enterprise developer certificates, which act as digital keys that tell an iPhone a piece of software downloaded from the internet can be trusted and opened. They are the centerpiece of Apple’s program for corporate apps and enable consumers to install apps onto iPhones without Apple’s knowledge.

Apple last month briefly banned Facebook Inc and Alphabet Inc from using enterprise certificates after they used them to distribute data-gathering apps to consumers.

The distributors of pirated apps seen by Reuters are using certificates obtained in the name of legitimate businesses, although it is unclear how. Several pirates have impersonated a subsidiary of China Mobile Ltd. China Mobile did not respond to requests for comment.

Tech news website TechCrunch earlier this week reported that certificate abuse also enabled the distribution of apps for pornography and gambling, both of which are banned from the App Store.

Since the App Store debuted in 2008, Apple has sought to portray the iPhone as safer than rival Android devices because Apple reviews and approves all apps distributed to the devices.

Early on, hackers “jailbroke” iPhones by modifying their software to evade Apple’s controls, but that process voided the iPhone’s warranty and scared off many casual users. The misuse of the enterprise certificates seen by Reuters does not rely on jailbreaking and can be used on unmodified iPhones. -Reuters

-Stephen Nellis and Paresh Dave

Continue Reading

Focus

Earth’s Earliest Mobile Organisms Lived 2.1 Billion Years Ago

Published

on

By

Scientists have discovered in 2.1-billion-year-old black shale from a quarry in Gabon the earliest evidence of a revolutionary development in the history of life on Earth, the ability of organisms to move from one place to another on their own.

The researchers on Monday described exquisitely preserved fossils of small tubular structures created when unknown organisms moved through soft mud in search of food in a calm and shallow marine ecosystem. The fossils dated back to a time when Earth was oxygen-rich and boasted conditions conducive to simple cellular life evolving more complexity, they said.

Life emerged in Earth’s seas as single-celled bacterial organisms perhaps 4 billion years ago, but the earliest life forms lacked the ability to move independently, called motility. The Gabon fossils are roughly 1.5 billion years older than the previous earliest evidence of motility and appearance of animal life.

The Gabonese shale deposits have been a treasure trove, also containing fossils of the oldest-known multicellular organisms.

“What matters here is their astonishing complexity and diversity in shape and size, and likely in terms of metabolic, developmental and behavioral patterns, including the just-discovered earliest evidence of motility, at least for certain among them,” said paleobiogeochemist and sedimentologist Abderrazak El Albani of the University of Poitiers in France.

The identity of these pioneering mobile organisms remains mysterious. The fossils did not include the organisms themselves.

The tubular structures, up to 6.7 inches (170 mm long), originally were made of organic matter, perhaps mucus strands left by organisms moving through mud.

The researchers said the structures may have been created by a multicellular organism or an aggregation of single-celled organisms akin to the slug-like organism formed when certain amoebas cluster together in lean times to move collectively to find a more hospitable environment.

“Life during the so-called Paleoproterozoic Era, 2.5 to 1.6 billion years ago, was not only bacterial, but more complex organisms had emerged at some point, likely only during some phases and under certain environmental circumstances,” El Albani said.

In comparison, the first vertebrates appeared about 525 million years ago, dinosaurs about 230 million years ago and Homo sapiens about 300,000 years ago.

The evolutionary experimentation with motility may have encountered a setback relatively soon after the Gabon organisms lived because of a dramatic drop in atmospheric oxygen 2.08 billion years ago.

The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. -Reuters

-Will Dunham

Continue Reading

Trending