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UNITED NATIONS, NEW YORK – Malaysia is one of the ten countries which together accounted for over 95% of all new HIV infections in the Asia-Pacific region, a report issued by the United Nations says.

The report, compiled by the Joint UN Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) “Ending AIDS: Progress Towards the 90-90 Targets”, said the other nine Asia-Pacific countries that had large constituencies of new HIV infections in 2016 are India, China, Indonesia, Pakistan, Vietnam, Myanmar, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines and Thailand.

It also contains an extensive analysis of the targets set for 2020 when 90% of all HIV-infected people should know their status, 90% of all HIV-diagnosed people should be able to access anti retroviral therapy (ART) and 90% of those taking ART are virally suppressed.

For the first time in the fight against AIDS, more than half of all people living with the HIV virus now have access to treatment while deaths caused by AIDS had been reduced by nearly 50% since 2005, according to the report.

Based on the report, HIV infections in these ten countries occurred mainly among sex workers and their customers, gay men and other men who had sex with men, people using drugs by injections, transgender people and others.

However, one silver lining spotted in the region is that the annual figures of new HIV infection showed a 13% decline during the last six years – from some 310,000 in 2010 to 270,000 in 2016.

Another encouraging development, according to the report, is that some 19.5 million of the world’s 36.7 million HIV-infected people had access to treatment, which showed AIDS-related deaths declining from 1.9 million in 2005 to one million.

The target is to put 30 million people worldwide on treatment by 2020, according to the report. — Bernama

KUALA LUMPUR – The Malaysian AIDS Foundation (MAF) will intensify HIV and AIDS awareness campaigns following an increase in HIV cases among youths last year, its chairman Prof Datuk Dr Adeeba Kamarulzaman said.

Based on data obtained from the Ministry of Health, she said young people, aged between 20 and 29, recorded the highest HIV cases of totalling 1,356 last year compared with 1,232 cases in 2015.

“Homosexuals, those who have random sex by not using condoms and addicts have recorded an increase in HIV cases last year and this figure is very worrying,” she told a news conference after the Hot and Cold run organised by MAF in collaboration with the University of Malaya Medical Faculty (UM) today.

Also present were Malaysian Aids Foundation ambassador Fahrin Ahmad and singer Najwa Latif.

Dr Adeeba said apart from inculcating awareness on HIV and AIDS, the ‘Hot and Cold’ run programme, which was held for the first time at UM, also raised funds to help HIV and AIDS patients.

Meanwhile, she said MAF would also hold talks with the Islamic Development Department of Malaysia (JAKIM) to assist Muslim patients via Baitulmal and tithe aid, including providing spiritual awareness. – BERNAMA

SINGAPORE: He pretended to be a professor in child psychology and lied to the authorities about his HIV status to land jobs at two local polytechnics.

He even used his boyfriend’s blood for an HIV test so that it would test negative for the condition.

Over a period of about eight years, American citizen Mikhy K. Farrera-Brochez, 32, committed multiple offences, including cheating, lying to a public servant, possessing drugs and using forged educational certificates.

Yesterday, he was sentenced to 28 months in jail.

He pleaded guilty to a total of six charges, with 17 taken into consideration. Three other charges, which had been taken into consideration, were stood down to be mentioned at a later date.

In 2008, Farrera-Brochez moved to Singapore a year after he got into a romantic relationship with local general practitioner Ler Teck Siang, 35. The pair had met online.

To apply for an Employment Pass (EP) to stay here with his boyfriend, he submitted an HIV-negative test result to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) in March that year.

But Farrera-Brochez, who is in fact HIV-positive, had used Dr Ler’s blood for the test. He had visited a clinic in Commonwealth, where Dr Ler, who was a locum GP, was on duty. Dr Ler had drawn the blood from his left arm earlier that day and labelled the test tube with Farrera-Brochez’s particulars.

MOM then issued Farrera-Brochez with an EP, and he later worked as a polytechnic lecturer.

Dr Ler, an infectious diseases specialist, worked as a medical officer at the Communicable Diseases Division of the Health Ministry from February 2012 to January 2014.

Farrera-Brochez similarly duped the authorities again in 2013, when he tried to apply for a Personalised Employment Pass.

He was also found guilty of possessing a ketamine and cannabis mixture in May last year.

Investigations further revealed that his various educational certificates, including one from the University of Paris, were forged.

Deputy Public Prosecutor Suhas Malhotra said that Farrera-Brochez knew that foreigners with HIV are not allowed to work here, and yet he had conspired with Dr Ler to falsify the blood test results.

“The fact that the blood test was supposedly performed by a doctor and issued by a clinic gave it an aura of authority, making it virtually certain that MOM would be deceived,” he said.

“His conduct evinces a blatant disregard for the authority of our laws.”

Dr Ler, who has been charged in relation to the case, has yet to be dealt with. – The Straits Times/Asia News Network

 

CHICAGO (Reuters) – Dr. Anthony Fauci doesn’t get too excited about the results of animal studies, and he doesn’t make house calls.

But when a drug already taken by thousands of people for intestinal conditions appeared to control the monkey version of HIV, it got the attention of the director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Fauci hopped on a plane to Cambridge, Mass., to personally tell Japan’s Takeda Pharmaceutical Co’s U.S. representatives that their drug may offer a dramatic advance in the fight against AIDS.

Takeda’s drug suppressed the virus to undetectable levels in eight monkeys, some for two years. The findings raise hopes for a so-called “functional cure” – a treatment that puts the disease in sustained remission.

“The data was so dramatic,” said Fauci, who has made AIDS research his life’s work.

The drug is one of several promising ideas heading into early-stage human trials, all seeking to help patients control the virus that causes AIDS for extended periods without daily antiretroviral therapy (ART).

The studies build on research propelled by the case of Timothy Ray Brown, the so-called “Berlin patient,” whose HIV was eradicated through an elaborate stem cell transplant in 2007.

“There has been this explosion of discovery,” said Mitchell Warren, executive director of the AIDS Vaccine Advocacy Coalition. “There are completely new ideas that were impossible to conceive even a few years ago.”

LIMITS OF CURRENT DRUGS

HIV once meant certain death. But, for more than half of the 36.7 million HIV patients around the world, ART transformed it into a chronic disease. Taken daily, ART suppresses the virus. But keeping up a daily medication regimen is difficult. The drugs are expensive and toxic, causing nausea, fatigue and nerve problems in the short-term, and insulin resistance and other problems over time.

Only about a third of U.S. patients take ART consistently enough to push the virus down to undetectable levels. “We’re going to need other approaches,” said Dr. Nelson Michael, director of the U.S. Military HIV Research Program at the Walter Reed Army Institute.

Much work has focused on the discovery of rare antibodies made by HIV patients that can neutralize several different forms of the virus. One trial involving an antibody called PGT121 licensed by Gilead Sciences Inc reduced the virus to undetectable levels in 16 of 18 monkeys; the effect lasted for four months in three of them.

At Walter Reed, Michael is taking a different tack, testing whether a vaccine – being developed to prevent HIV infection – can fight off the virus in infected individuals.

Last month, Michael and researchers at Harvard’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center published the results of a monkey test of Johnson & Johnson’s HIV vaccine candidate called Ad26/MVA and Gilead’s experimental drug GS-986.

On its own, the vaccine had a modest effect. But it was even more effective when it was given with GS-986, a so-called TLR-7 agonist that “kicks the immune system up to a higher gear,” Michael said.

All nine monkeys that got both treatments showed significantly reduced viral loads. In three, the combination therapy has kept the virus at bay for at least six months.

Human trials could begin within months, said Dr. Paul Stoffels, J&J’s chief scientific officer.

“If the cure is there, the industry will find a way to get there very quickly,” Stoffels said.

“IT WAS LIKE, ‘WOW”

Fauci’s visit was a first for Takeda, a company focused on treatments for cancer, gastroenterology and the central nervous system, said Dr. Michael Shetzline, who heads clinical science for Takeda in Cambridge.

“The excitement was just clear,” Shetzline said. “It was like, ‘Wow.'”

Takeda does not study HIV. But its researchers understood the basic science surrounding its drug Entyvio, an antibody engineered to attack a specific protein.

The drug, known generically as vedolizumab, is approved in more than 50 countries for ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, which occur when the immune system attacks the intestines.

“Entyvio is a cell trafficking molecule that affects immune responses,” Shetzline said. “In this instance, the GI tract is what is harbouring this HIV cell population that needs to be cleared – at least that is what the monkey study implies.”

Takeda is providing the drug and supporting the study. Shetzline cautioned that it’s only a pilot.

“We’d love to see this benefit patients,” he said.

If it pans out, cost could be an issue. Entyvio is priced as a biologic, similar to other IBD treatments, which range from $2,000 to $5,000 a month, according to Consumer Reports. Entyvio’s HIV trial began in August and seeks to enrol 15 to 25 people with stable disease. They will remain on daily ART drugs while taking nine infusions of Entyvio over a period of several months. Then, ART will be stopped, they will get two more infusions, and doctors will watch to see if the virus rebounds – or remains suppressed.

Manni Baez, 30, of Columbus, Ohio, travels to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, about once a month for the study.

“For me, the end game is providing the folks at NIH with the resources they need to get them closer to finding a cure or a vaccine for this plague,” Baez said.

Fauci said he doesn’t expect meaningful results until late 2017 or early 2018. Even partial success would be huge, he said. “If we discontinue therapy in the 15, and four of them don’t rebound,” he said, then “that is the best anybody has ever seen.” Fauci said he doesn’t get emotional about the data he collects, and, in any event, it’s early days for this research.

“I try to be as objective as I possibly can,” he said. “I will get really excited if we get our first seven people in human (trial), and I stop ART – and they don’t rebound.”

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; Editing by Michele Gershberg and Lisa Girion)

ALOR GAJAH – Only 28 per cent of the 90,000-odd HIV/AIDS patients in the country seek consistent medical treatment to carry on with their lives, says Health Deputy Minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya.

He said the number was very small as the awareness among patients to get treatment was still low because they were ashamed to seek treatment and did not know about the various types of treatment provided by the government to help them fight the disease.

“We hope the percentage of HIV/AIDS patients seeking treatment will reach 90 per cent, in line with the National Strategic Plan Ending AIDS 2016-2030,” he told a press conference here today, after attending the Country Coordinating Mechanism Meeting held at the Alor Gajah Health Office.

He said all non-governmental organisations under the Malaysian Aids Council would be given training to carry out checks or tests on HIV/AIDS patients.

This would encourage more patients to seek early treatment without feeling embarrassed, he added.

Earlier, Dr Hilmi presented a mock cheque for RM7 million to the MAC to carry out 52 projects to combat HIV/AIDS in the country this year. – BERNAMA

LOS ANGELES: Charlie Sheen is no longer HIV positive after having taken medication for years, according to TMZ.

The entertainment news website cited sources to say that the actor, who is expected to discuss his HIV status on United States television on Tuesday, has known for more than two years that he was HIV positive.

“We’re told Charlie was taking meds for the HIV and has had a series of blood tests, and over time, the virus has been ‘undetectable’ in his system,” it reported today.

The sources said the former Two And A Half Men star admits to having had intimate relations with many sexual partners after his diagnosis.

But they said the actor is insisting that he had not deceived anyone as the disease was now “undetectable”.

Radar Online, however, said not having traces of HIV in his blood does not mean he is HIV-negative.

It cites a medical expert as saying that there is no known cure for HIV, the virus that causes Aids.

An HIV positive patient can keep the disease at “undetectable” levels by using anti-retroviral drugs.

But once a person has HIV, he or she will have it for life, at least until medical advances provide a cure.

Sheen, who was fired in 2011 from Two And A Half Men set after a much-publicised spat with Warner Bros over his behaviour, was making his HIV status public because several former partners were threatening him with lawsuits, reported AFP.

TMZ claimed the 50-year-old actor had kept his HIV diagnosis confidential, sharing it only with several friends – who spread the information. – The Straits Times/Asia News Network

KUALA LUMPUR – Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr S. Subramaniam told the Dewan Negara today that the number of new HIV cases was showing a declining trend since 2002.

He said 799 new HIV were reported during the first three months of this year and based on the number, he expected 3,196 new cases to be reported throughout this year, compared with 3,517 cases reported last year.

“The number of new HIV cases has generally shown a declining trend, not increasing.

“The highest HIV cases reported was 6,978 people or 28.4 for every 100,000 population in 2002,” he said in response to a question from Senator Datuk Noriah Mahat.

Noriah wanted to know the factors for the increase in the number of HIV patients in the country.

In another development, Subramaniam said the ministry was working with the Home Ministry to study and provide a new definition for ketum leaf before it could be listed as a dangerous drug.

He said the study was necessary so as not to victimise villagers who had been planting and using ketum for medicinal purpose.

“Leaves from ketum plants, which grow wild in villages, are traditional used to make drinks for women in confinement to regain their strength.

He was responding to a supplementary question from Senator Datuk Mohd Shuhaimi Abdullah who wanted clarification for the contradiction on the ketum issue between the Health Ministry and the Home Ministry. – BERNAMA