Friday, July 4, 2008


Not much going on here. I submitted a “White paper” research grant proposal for a contract with the US government on some work (if I told you I would have to kill you [j/k]). But I’m still waiting on my friend Vinod to get back to me on that. So that’s not in the forefront for me. I would love for it to work out but if not, I’ve still some other opportunities.

My HIV/AIDS grant with the Bill Gates Foundation is due in one week. It’s quite exciting but I’m not sure about it. In all honesty, they have demanded so much from me here that I have not given proper attention to it. It’s a grant that requires excessive (good excess) creativity as they are only funding curative and vaccine research that is “off-the-beaten-path,” completely untried, unorthodox, etc. I like what the guy is doing in trying to push this cure like never before. Though it’s true that there currently are no cures for ANY virus, HIV just might be the virus that first brings a cure to a known virus. We’ll see. Either way, I don’t feel ready to submit at this point, especially as I can only submit one idea/proposal and not all the ones I have. So I have to choose the best one. We’ll see what happens. But the grant highlights the fact that just simple prevention strategies and antiretroviral drugs are not enough. In South Africa, we have more people infected each year than new people who start taking the medicines. So we are losing the battle. Moreover, I just read an article that says the argument between the activists and the Christians (I’m labeling them) over the A or the C in ABC (Abstinence, Be Faithful, Use a Condom) is misplaced as the B seems to have a greater impact (as suggested by this article).

This has to do with sexual networks. If you create a diagram showing a network of people in which each person is connected by lines to every other person he or she has had sex with, you can create a sexual network. And contrary to belief of some, the HIV phenomenon in South Africa is dominated by heterosexual infection (not homosexual), so any arguments about South Africa’s homosexual population fall flat. Moreover, even arguments (western arguments) about African and southern Africa’s promiscuity fall flat. I just saw some detailed data on the percentage of people (married men and married women) who had sex before marriage around the world. When you looked at men (these are adults now, so they were teenagers back in the 60’s or 70’s or 80’s) it involved a lot of countries including the US, Europe, Africa, and Latin America. When you looked at women, the US was still lit up with 75% along with Australia. I think there was no African country in that high range. The data was produced two years ago but shows me that incidence of sex is less out here than say the US (at least according to the data), and it’s the actual picture that Africans have according to US movies. Yet people here are often accused of having too much intercourse or being loose.

It’s true that in Thailand a huge influencing factor of the spread of HIV is due to the large sex worker trade. And so the government there decided (instead of killing the sex worker trade) to regulate sex workers. So they would put policemen outside the sex-worker-places, and the policemen would ask clients as they came out if the sex worker required the man to wear a condom or if the male sex worker wore a condom. If the answer was no, they shut the place down. So now it’s very well regulated. In South Africa that would not work as HIV is not proliferated through the sex worker industry. Uganda tried a different approach of really pushing abstinence. That does help. The problem is that you have to sustain it. The second you let up, the results let up. And as you know they have had a 20+ year war that is near the end and have had reasons to be occupied (maybe not). These things are coupled and the war definitely fueled the spread of HIV and AIDS. There are many strategies that different places are trying. And we’re trying to see what works best here. More than 90% of our infections are from sexual activity while less than 10% are from MTCT (mother to child transmission).

So we are working hard. But in all honesty, there are not enough ARV drugs to go around and not enough money to purchase it. We need a cure and we need one fast. Worldwide we are doing better with the number of those with the disease having decreased a bit from what we thought, but so many factors play into that (deaths of people with AIDS decreases the number of people living with AIDS, and there are many people with HIV who do not know it). In South Africa, one of the biggest things that will help the people is a simple task: just know your status. Get tested.

Anyway, I’m rambling and I could tell you more about facts and figures and social work and scientific work. Just know it’s still a huge problem especially here. The article that I told you about that pushed decreasing the size of sexual networks (being faithful—the B in ABC) also spoke on circumcision. One of the reasons AIDS isn’t as big in West Africa compared to southern Africa is that baby circumcision is very common West Africa compared to Southern Africa (and circumcision decreases your risks of being infected by HIV).

Oh, I almost forgot. One of the three papers I’ve submitted from the thesis was accepted for publication pending some revisions on my part. Can you believe it. It made me laugh. It’s the only one of the three papers from the thesis that I offered my ex-advisor co-authorship which he rejected and said he didn’t think it was good enough for journals (maybe a conference). Funny. And he’ll be in the ZA in January for an international conference, the top in our field of “computational mechanics.” But it just shows you that you shouldn’t judge the worth of what you’ve done by what people say. If you notice, the work hadn’t changed at all, just some big-wig journal said they would like to publish it. Actually this particular article was accepted on its first try. One is on its 2nd try. And one (the very first I sent out) will be on its first discipline-specific journal try next week (I sent it to a lot of general journals which it was rejected from).

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