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Danai Gurira: The Celluloid Warrior Fighting Against HIV

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In December 2018 on the same day of the interview, Gray and Gurira meet at the Imbokodo clinic.

Gray is one of the leaders of the trials at the clinic.

“We are in a golden age in terms of HIV science and hopeful about making huge advancements in HIV vaccine developments,” she says.

Much like Gurira, Gray was also confronted with the epidemic at a young age.

“As a young doctor, I saw HIV explode in my face and imagine if we can, in my medical career, go from the beginning of an epidemic to the end of an epidemic; that would be an amazing feat to be part of the team that finds an HIV vaccine.”

What Gray has endeavored to do is to find an HIV vaccine that protects women and in the future, children and adolescents as well.

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

“We definitely are not going to be able to treat ourselves out of this epidemic if we don’t find potent biomedical interventions, we are not going to be able to turn off the tap,” she says.

Gray has dealt with innumerable women affected by HIV.

“I am sick and tired of HIV and I am sick and tired of how it devastates lives and I am sick and tired of how it impacts women in Africa,” Glenda says.

Gray, together with Dr Paul Stoffels, who is the head of research and development for Johnson & Johnson, have been trying to prove HIV vaccines work.

Stoffels and his team have been working with HIV for more than 25 years, developing ARV medication.

The medication has evolved from many pills a day to one a day, he says.

“We are working on new medicines to bring it to an injectable to once every day to once every month. But we can treat HIV patients but they need to be treated for the rest of their lives,” he says.

“People can have normal life expectancy and live normal lives with medicine but we won’t be able to stop the epidemic if we don’t get to a vaccine.”

Dr Paul Stoffels, who is the head of research and development for Johnson & Johnson. Picture: Motlabana Monnakgotla

He says that the vaccine they have been working on has been very active in animal models and they have now shifted to clinical trials in humans to prove that it works.

“We are at a stage that we do the first efficacy study and at the same time first we prove that it is safe and that it can be used by people and then we prove that it is efficacious,” he says.

The people who become part of the vaccine study will be part of the trial for years.

However, one of the challenges, he says they face is finding people who are at risk to commit to being part of the long-term study.

Therefore, it is important to bring awareness to the public about such studies being done.

“HIV prevention needs important people such as global stars to step in and with Global Citizen, we had a perfect platform to be on the global stage. And Danai is one of the people well known in Africa and she is very committed to this objective and so we started collaborating with her to bring the message of prevention, and also the message of importance of research in getting to the HIV vaccines, in getting people to participate as well as to stay on,” he says.

Other celebrities also known for the advocacy of HIV include musician and actor Lady Gaga, musician Bono, television host Ellen DeGeneres and musician Alicia Keys.

“What’s very important, I think, for a person like her [Gurira] is to give the message of hope that one day we will be able to combat the disease but at the same time, it is a message of ‘at this moment we need to prevent’,” says Stoffels.

Gray agrees.

“She [Gurira] understands what it’s like to be a young woman, she understands what it’s like to be a black young woman and how difficult it is to navigate safe sex, masculinity, patriarchy and so she comes with a lot of soul and insight.”

Eliminating the epidemic

After the release of In the Continuum, Gurira toured her play in South Africa and Zimbabwe.

“I met some courageous people on the ground at the front line of this epidemic.”

Through that, she was able to connect to a number of organizations which she then got involved in.

“It not only allowed me to learn more but become more of a vessel for advocacy and awareness,” Gurira says.

“It is really powerful to me that these women are here [at the clinic] helming this study that could really eliminate this epidemic.

“There have been epidemics that have existed in past human history that have been eliminated through vaccination and we could actually see that come to pass. I am sitting on a site where this could come to pass for HIV/AIDS, which is the epidemic of our time,” she says, hopeful.

“I’d like to see it eliminated.

“There are times when we tend to think that ‘oh HIV it is being managed, and ARVs exist,’ and we forget that it is still a very active fight.”

According to AVERT, an international HIV and AIDS charity, in 2017, there were roughly 1.8 million new HIV infections, the same as in 2016 –  about 5,000 new infections per day.

Therefore, Gurira says awareness is very important to avoid the “issue fading in the background”.

From left to right, Dr Paul Stoffels, Danai Gurira and
Dr Glenda Gray. Picture: Supplied by Global Citizen

Having been born in the US and being Zimbabwean, her fight for HIV has become global.

 Since her appointment by the UN, she aims for a larger reach.

Gurira says despite women being the focus of her advocacy, everyone, including men and boys, need to be a part of this fight.

“As Canadian Prime Minister [Justin] Trudeau recently said, which I really appreciated, he called himself a feminist. He said, ‘I am a feminist and to be feminist you believe in the equality of men and women and you believe there is a lot of work to do to get to that place’.”

The fight against HIV continues to be a global phenomenon, but with more awareness raised and efforts from everyone, we could be one vaccine away from eliminating it.

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Health

Local Solutions Can Boost Healthier Food Choices In South Africa

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The crisis in health triggered by cheap food that’s high in fat and sugar is now well documented. Obesity related diseases such as cancer, heart disease and diabetes are rapidly overtaking HIV as the top causes of death in South Africa. A bad diet is a major contributor to this epidemic because people increasingly opt for unhealthier, processed and fast foods.

But how should countries like South Africa go about making sure that people – particularly poor people (where the burden of non-communicable diseases is highest) – have access to healthy food?

Recent research from the Wits School of Public Health, the Health Systems Trust and the University of KwaZulu-Natal sheds fresh light on the problem, showing a proliferation of unhealthy food, particularly in poorer communities.

This demonstrates the need for the government to intervene urgently. One possibility is to create new policies or adapt existing policies to promote the creation of healthy food environments. In particular, local governments have a unique opportunity to intervene.

What food’s available where

The research used a distinction between unhealthy and healthy foods drawn up by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention. This categorises grocery stores and supermarkets as “healthy” and fast-food restaurants, for example, as “unhealthy”.

The research set out to assess differences in food environment based on socio-economic status. It focused on grocery stores and fast-food restaurants only, with full service restaurants excluded.

The analysis used a tool called the “modified retail food environment index” and show the proportion of food retailers in Gauteng that were “healthy” and what proportion were “unhealthy”.

The results showed how fast-food outlets, and the unhealthy foods they serve, vastly outnumbered formal grocery stores. In November 2016, there were 1559 unhealthy food outlets in Gauteng compared to only 709 healthy food outlets.

Strikingly, the distribution of these outlets are income-based. Most of the poorer wards had only fast-food retailers with no healthy food outlets. Conversely, grocery stores are concentrated in wealthy areas.

The research shows that many wards in Gauteng have high concentrations of unhealthy food – in other words, they have “obesogenic” food environments. This means the type of food available in this environment promote obesity, leaving their residents little choice.

This is a big problem. But it can be fixed.

Changes

One possible strategy is to introduce policies that limit the number of fast-food outlets in communities. But what would these policies look like, and who would implement them?

Local as well as national government structures have the authority to license and control food retailers.

In addition, local governments have extensive powers over planning and zoning. They could be required to consider the impact on the food environment when granting zoning approvals or business licenses.

This would require filling a gap in municipal bylaws. For example, the City of Johannesburg municipality has passed two bylaws regulating informal or street trading and one on spatial planning.

But neither of these link municipal planning obligations to the placement of food retailers. This gap can be filled by explicitly taking saturation or scarcity of different food retailers into account. This could include, for example, creating a zoning exemption or special approval for healthy retailers.

Alternatively, national level policies can better guide implementation at a local level. This would require governments to adapt existing business licensing and planning frameworks to take into account the lack of healthy food retailers in a particular area.

For example, the framework used to grant business licenses is set out in national legislation, the Business Act, but implemented by local governments. This framework might require conditions that are more stringent for food retailers before they set up shop.

Currently, businesses are required to submit a copy of the menu of a food trader and a zoning certificate when applying for a license. This means that municipalities are aware of what kind of retailer is applying for a licence and the nature of their food offerings. Municipalities could use this information to control the number of fast-food retailers in a given area.

Additionally, municipalities could streamline the process for licensing healthy food retailers, making it easier and faster for them to open in areas most in need. By creating a separate, simpler process of approval for healthy retailers, it would potentially encourage more of them to open. Alternatively, they could introduce a certificate of “need exemption”. This system could then allow a waiver of some requirements for a license if that business can demonstrate a need for healthy food retailers in an area.

Local governments have already exercised this kind of power to further public health. Cape Town passed a law that prohibited smoking within a certain distance of doors and open windows.

Municipalities could also put regulations in place that restrict the sale of unhealthy food near schools. In addition, they could incentivise retailers to move to under-served areas. Steps like this are already being explored and are set out in detail by the World Health Organisation guidelines.

Challenges

The research shows that poor South Africans have little choice when it comes to purchasing healthy food in their own neighbourhoods. In addition, municipal governments aren’t doing enough to preserve and improve access to healthier foods.

This must change. There’s a plethora of options to select from if municipalities want to improve their food environments and can facilitate the right to access to healthy foods for the poorest and most vulnerable. A good place to start in South Africa would be Gauteng.

Noluthando Ndlovu, a public health researcher at the Health Systems Trust was a leading member of the research team. -The Conversation

-Karen Hofman: Professor and Program Director, PRICELESS SA ( Priority Cost Effective Lessons in Systems Stregthening South Africa), University of the Witwatersrand

-Safura Abdool Karim: Senior Project Manager, PRICELESS SA ( Priority Cost Effective Lessons in Systems Stregthening South Africa), University of the Witwatersrand

The Conversation

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Focus

5 Things You Should Do The Night Before A Job Interview

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Preparation is key for having a successful a job interview. What you do the night before a job interview has an impact on your interview. What can you do to make sure this impact is a positive one?

1.Get a good night’s sleep.

Getting a good night’s sleep is the most important thing you can do before an interview. When you’re well rested, you’re more alert and focused, and you won’t have to resort to caffeine or sugar to stay awake. Being sleep deprived can also increase feelings of stress or anxiety, neither of which is helpful going into a job interview.

Of course, it can be hard to sleep because you’re anxious about the interview. If you find yourself having trouble getting to sleep, try a relaxation exercise like meditation or yoga. Whatever you do, take your mind off of the interview – overthinking it is most likely what’s keeping you awake.

READ MORE | 5 Questions You Should Never Ask During A Job Interview

2.Review your resume and cover letter.

Review your resume and cover letter, as well as any answers to questions you might have filled out on the job application. Focus on key statistics you’ve listed, major accomplishments, and relevant skills. This is especially important if you’re applying to multiple positions and sending out different versions of your resume and cover letter.

By reviewing your documents, they’ll be fresh in your mind and you’ll be able to answer any questions relating to them quickly. This shows the hiring manager that you are confident, both in your abilities and in the interview itself. If you have to think too hard about a question relating to your resume or cover letter, it could signal to the hiring manager that you weren’t truthful on your application and raise a red flag.

3.Prepare a list of questions to ask.

Asking questions is one the most critical things you must do in a job interview, so it’s important to prepare some questions in advance. By having a few questions already prepared, you won’t draw a blank when the hiring manager asks you. Great questions to ask inquire about the company culture, job responsibilities, or what a typical day looks like. Review the job description to see if there’s anything from there that you’d like clarified. This will often be covered during the interview, but if not, you’ll be ready to ask about it.

4.Plan out your route.

Plan out your route and how long it will take you to get to the interview location. If you’re driving, consider traffic conditions and weather that could cause delays. If you’re taking public transportation, check to make sure that the subway or buses are running on schedule and nothing has changed due to planned work. If you’re doing a video interview, plan out your location, and check your video and microphone to make sure they work.

Always leave yourself a minimum of 30 extra minutes, regardless of how you’re getting to the interview. If you’re early, you can find a nearby cafe or just sit in your car and relax. Nothing is worse than stressing about being late, except for actually being late. Avoid both of those things by leaving much earlier than you think you need to. For a video interview, get yourself set up 15 minutes early.

5.Plan what you’re going to wear.

Deciding what you’re going to wear in advance takes one less thing off of your mind in the morning and allows you to focus your energy on more important things. Make sure your clothes are free of wrinkles, stains, and pet hair. You can also pack your bag the night before, so that all you have to do is grab it and go in the morning.

By starting your interview preparations the night before, you’ll be able to focus fully on the interview itself during the day and put 100% of your energy into it.

-Ashira Prossack

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Entrepreneurs

This Bioengineering Startup Just Raised $90 Million To Make Your Veggie Burger Taste Better

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One of the ag tech world’s few unicorns is spinning off a new food ingredients company called Motif Ingredients with a $90 million Series A.


Motif will leverage intellectual property and facilities from its parent company Ginkgo Bioworks, which was last valued in 2017 at $1.38 billion, when it raised a $275 million Series D. Gingko is known for the ability to rapidly produce DNA for applications from microbes that replace fertilizer to ones that produce perfume fragrances.

At Motif, that technology will be inserted into yeast cells. The yeast is then fermented, as in beer brewing, except that instead of producing alcohol, the yeast creates whatever by-product Motif’s customers want.

These ingredients can be customized to mimic flavors or textures similar to those found in protein products like beef and dairy—a potential game-changer for the budding industry of plant-based foods, which has seen everything from burgers to cheese alternatives gain popularity in recent years.

READ MORE | The Foodies With A Drive For Business

Take Impossible Foods, backed by top investors from Bill Gates to GV. Its soy-and-vegetable-based burger still bleeds like the traditional beef version because of an added ingredient called heme, a molecule found in nearly all living plants and animals.

Impossible’s products rely on this ingredient, which is hard to source. But, as Jason Kelly, Ginkgo Bioworks cofounder and CEO says, Impossible doesn’t manufacture its own heme in-house. And that’s where labs like Motif come in.

“Instead of making another Impossible, we’ll be an ingredient supplier. We’ll supply the Impossible nugget or the egg-free whatever. There are many people who have branding and food development expertise who’d love to make new products in this space, but only a handful have the funding to do,” says Kelly.

“We’re focused on what you’d add to the existing supply chain to make it better. All these companies need it to make a veggie fish stick that tastes good.”

Motif investors include Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Louis Dreyfus Cos., Fonterra and Viking Global Investors.

Ginkgo Bioworks was first founded in 2008, based largely on research developed at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology by scientist Tom Knight, one of the company’s cofounders who came to biology after decades of work as a computer scientist. Knight’s philosophy of synthetic biology is to treat it as akin to computer programming, and Kelly sees his company as being a biological programmer.

“We’re like app developers writing a microbial app,” he said. “And our customers come to us and say, ‘Hey can you make me an app that does this?’”

This is Ginkgo’s second spin-off. In 2017, Ginkgo formed a joint venture with Bayer called Joyn Bio, which leverages the company’s assets and IP to create microbes that can replace or supplement fertilizer for different crops.

That company kicked off with a $100 million Series A round with investments from its parent companies and Viking Global Investors LP.

Similarly, Kelly sees Motif as a company that will operate in the same way for food ingredients, and he expects that as Ginkgo grows, it will spin out others. “We want to keep, in many, many verticals, popping business up that have access to our platform and ask for specs in different markets.”

-Chloe Sorvino and Alex Knapp; Forbes Staff

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