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Danai Gurira: The Celluloid Warrior Fighting Against HIV

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HIV/AIDS remains a global concern. International star and Zimbabwean playwright Danai Gurira is using her celebrity to battle for its elimination.


A superhero on the big screen and now a possible superhero in real life, actor and playwright, Danai Gurira, is making it her mission to join the fight against HIV/AIDS.

She is known for playing General Okoye in one of last year’s biggest films, Black Panther, which grossed over a billion dollars worldwide.

The famous Zimbabwean says the fight against the epidemic has been evident in her life ever since she was a little girl.

Recently appointed a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador, she chats to FORBES AFRICA about her work.

READ MORE | Danai Gurira: ‘Fully Feminine And Fully Fierce’

On December 3, 2018, a day after the Global Citizen Festival where Gurira made an appearance as a co-host to rapturous applause from an audience of 75,000 in Johannesburg, we meet her at an HIV clinic on the outskirts of the city in a township called Tembisa. It’s a trial clinic called Imbokodo for testing a combination of two experimental vaccines to prevent HIV.

At the clinic, Gurira meets with a group of women heading it, to discuss and learn how the trials work.

One of the women, dressed in a pink blouse, responsible for creating the trial vaccine, talks to Gurira about their work. Maria Grazia Pau is the Senior Director, Compound Development Team Leader, for the HIV vaccine programs at Janssen.

 Pau has over 18 years of experience in the field of viral vectors.

“We have seen responses in the body systemically when we check the blood but also we have checked other studies, and we do see responses there,” she tells Gurira.

Everyone in the room pays attention.

“The composition is complex, we want to protect from many different types of HIV because there are so many traits everywhere,” Pau says.

“Right,” Gurira nods attentively.

“It is the answer to elimination,” Gurira says.

The group of women join in the conversation.

They may just be on a breakthrough to finding an HIV vaccine.

The study is being conducted by the HIV Vaccine Trials Network, Janssen Vaccines & Prevention B.V., part of the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, and all the participating study clinics.

These partners are working in collaboration with community stakeholders to ensure this research is acceptable to the local community and respectful of local cultures.

With 27 sites on the continent alone, they have clinics in countries including Zambia, Malawi and Mozambique.

Gurira has recently collaborated with them to help further their research and spread awareness about the disease.

Gurira was born in the United States (US) and later moved to Zimbabwe, when she was a young girl.

Growing up in Harare, she saw and heard a number of stories relating to HIV that touched her deeply.

The 1980s were a time when the disease had started spreading globally.

“I can’t really extricate my upbringing from understanding how this epidemic hit southern Africa and how it changed the tapestry of life,” she says.

The stigma around the disease and how women were treated were some of the issues that concerned her.

“Growing up, I witnessed how it was affecting, not only cultural dynamics, but also exacerbating issues around gender dynamics and various things that filled me with great passion,” she says.

“How women were dealing with a great amount of stigma in the family; if HIV was in the homestead, the involvement of even in-laws and how that was being interpreted –  about faulting a woman. [As well as] blame imposed upon women and the loss of a spouse and how that would affect how a woman was treated post that time. So there were a lot of things affecting me as I grew up and as I watched these things happen.”

 It was those personal experiences that shaped how she viewed HIV and the importance of eradicating it.

It was later that she moved back to the US and pursued a career in psychology and then a masters in Fine Arts.

How people perceived HIV there, was not what she expected.

“Coming to the US and seeing how the African was viewed as a statistic; I was seeing real people with real stories and experiences who were truly people who had aspirations and careers and had many things going for them that they were working towards.”

READ MORE | 2010 all over again: a musical extravaganza to honor Nelson Mandela

At the time, antiretroviral (ARV) therapy had not yet been introduced and there was no way to manage it.

“It was such a death sentence at the time,” she says.

“And to come to the US to find that what we were dealing with in southern Africa was statistical, that also gave a great amount of need to bridge that very unfortunate disconnect between the actual human experience of it and the value of people who were being affected by this… and how they were being viewed.”

While there, she connected with some of her friends who did field work around the issue while she was more focused on her advocacy in the field of arts.

She married her advocacy for HIV with her passion for the arts.

Gurira began writing plays in an effort to use her strengths as an actor, and tell stories about issues she felt strongly about.

She co-wrote and co-starred in In the Continuum, a play about HIV/AIDS from the perspective of a married Zimbabwean woman.

With this play, her aim was to break away from the “statistical component of how the African is viewed often”.

In December 2011, In the Continuum commemorated World AIDS Day.

Little did she know that was the beginning of her activism against HIV/AIDS.

The ‘golden age’ of HIV science

Glenda Gray, a National Research Foundation A-rated scientist, CEO and President of the South African Medical Research Council. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

The same year, a woman in South Africa by the name of Dr Glenda Gray, was elected into the US Institute of Medicine, National Academies, as a foreign associate for her research on preventing HIV-infected mothers from passing the virus to their newborns.

She is a National Research Foundation A-rated scientist, CEO and President of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC).

She is a qualified paediatrician and clinician and co-founder of the internationally recognized Perinatal HIV Research Unit in Soweto, South Africa.

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Health

[IN NUMBERS] Coronavirus Update: COVID-19 In Africa

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While most cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus have been reported in the U.S. , Europe, and China, the virus is spreading rapidly across the African continent.

The confirmed worldwide cases for the virus have surpassed 10 million with the current figure being at 10,421,615.

The increase in new reported cases around the world has led the World Health Organization (WHO) to declare the coronavirus a global pandemic.

The death toll has risen globally to a whopping 508,421.

The U.S. leads with 128,783 deaths. Brazil is second with 58,385. The U.K is third with 43,575. Italy is fourth with 34,744, and France is fifth with 29,813.

China, where the virus originated from, maintains that the country’s death toll is at 4,634.

The figure of the global recoveries stands at 5,679,527.

The African continent has 396,314 cases of Covid-19, while the death toll stands at 9,914. The continent has made 189,722 recoveries.

Here are the numbers in Africa:

Country Confirmed Cases Confirmed DeathsConfirmed Recoveries
Algeria13,5719059,674
Angola140661
Benin2707228
Botswana60124
Burkina Faso89453804
Burundi85145
Cameroon12,59231310,100
Cabo Verde (Cape Verde)7506301
Central African Republic (CAR)2,2227369
Chad85073720
Comoros1762114
Congo72824221
Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)9,214663,996
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)6,9391671,050
Djibouti4,465432,950
Egypt66,7542,87217,951
Equatorial Guinea1,30612200
Eritrea9639
Eswatini (formerly Swaziland)4904249
Ethiopia3,34557545
Gabon3,463231,024
Gambia28124
Ghana17,35111212,994
Guinea4,532253,234
Guinea-Bissau1,46015153
Kenya3,5941031,253
Lesotho42
Liberia45832219
Libya4541063
Madagascar1,29010384
Malawi547669
Mali1,8091041,088
Mauritania1,78387332
Mauritius33710325
Mayotte2,298191,790
Morocco12,2902258,833
Mozambique5833151
Namibia3217
Niger98066885
Nigeria25,1335739,402
Reunion4951460
Rwanda5822332
Sao Tome and Principe66112177
Senegal5,173643,424
Seychelles1111
Sierra Leone1,16951680
Somalia2,61888577
South Africa144,2642,52970,614
South Sudan1,6932749
Sudan9,2575724,014
Tanzania50921183
Togo53113299
Tunisia1,09649998
Uganda705299
Western Sahara918
Zambia1,358111,122
Zimbabwe383454

Note: The numbers will be updated as new information is available.

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This Single Factor Could Force Another Coronavirus Shutdown, Goldman Sachs Says

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With new coronavirus cases rising in 26 states, according to data from Johns Hopkins, and the national conversation turning to whether those states rushed to reopen their economies too quickly, new analysis from Goldman Sachs suggests that in the coming weeks, hospital capacity (rather than case numbers) is the factor most likely to prompt another lockdown.

KEY FACTS

  • Goldman’s experts say hospital data is a more reliable picture of the spread of the virus nationwide than positive test results, which fluctuate with changes in testing trends. 
  • The analysts noted, however, that “there is probably a high hurdle for states to reinstate lockdowns.” 
  • As new cases continue to rise across the country, Goldman’s analysts also tracked which states currently meet federal reopening criteria based on four factors: symptoms, cases, testing and hospitalizations and fatalities. 
  • Only Arizona and Alabama fail in all four categories, the analysts say; symptoms and cases are on the rise, positive test rates are high, and hospitals are nearing their maximum capacities. 
  • On the other hand, 19 states meet all four criteria for reopening, including several former hot spots like New York and New Jersey, and the vast majority of states meet at least three out of the four criteria.

KEY BACKGROUND

Along with Alabama and Arizona, California, Texas, and Florida have also seen sharp upticks in infections in recent days. Florida reported a record increase in new cases on four out of the six days between June 15 and 20, for instance. The number of confirmed cases since the pandemic started has now swelled to over 100,000, and Gov. Ron DeSantis said the uptick is “clearly” the result of a failure to follow social distancing guidelines. With cases on the rise, some places—like Arizona—are forging ahead with reopening plans while others—in MaineOregon, and Kansas, for instance—are tightening up restrictions again.

Sarah Hansen, Forbes Staff, Markets

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2,000 Participants To Be Entered Into South Africa’s First Covid-19 Vaccine Trial

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South Africa is very much in the early phase of the pandemic, says expert.

South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) announced on Tuesday during a virtual press conference that it will begin the continent’s first clinical trial for a Covid-19 vaccine. Leading the South African Ox1Cov-19 Vaccine VIDA-Trial is Shabir Madhi, Professor of Vaccinology at Wits University and Director of the South Africa Medical Research Council (SAMRC) Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics Research Unit (VIDA).

“This is a landmark moment for South Africa and Africa at this stage of the Covid-19 pandemic. As we enter winter in South Africa and pressure increases on public hospitals, now more than ever, we need a vaccine to prevent infection by Covid-19,” said Madhi at the launch.

“We began screening participants for the South African Oxford 1 Covid-19 vaccine trial last week and the first participants will be vaccinated this week,” he added.

Speaking to FORBES AFRICA, Martin Veller, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at Wits, believes South Africa is very much in the early phase of the pandemic.

“We will be seeing a lot more cases. And that is already reflected in the significant increase of the numbers that we’ve seen in the country.”

South Africa’s total number of cases has surpassed 100,000 with the death toll reaching 1,991.

The South African Ox1Cov-19 Vaccine VIDA-Trial will start tomorrow, June 24.

“2,000 people will be entered into the trial. It’s important to note that the trial is largely going to be a placebo-controlled trial. One needs to see firstly what the safety of the vaccine is but much more importantly whether it’s effective,” says Veller.

He further stated that the participants will be followed for a whole year and the results will be analysed intermittently.

The institution is also collaborating with other institutions on the vaccine trial.

“Because of the expertise that Professor Madhi, his colleagues at Oxford University very early on contacted him to take part in the development and the trials of this vaccine,” says Veller.

Wits will also be collaborating with the Jenner Institute at Oxford University on the trial.

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