TIME Diet/Nutrition

Zebra: The New Red Meat

Africa, Tanzania, Safari, Common Zebra in the Serengeti
Zebra in the Serengeti, Tanzania on Feb. 1, 2013. Universal Images Group/Getty Images

Hungry for something different? Zebra meat is now an option.

If you’re looking for the leanest source of animal protein, you can now add zebra meat to your diet. It has one-tenth the fat of beef (zebra has 0.5g per 100g), making it leaner than chicken, and 35 grams of protein per serving.

UK’s fitness food supplier Musclefood.com now provides zebra steaks from the haunches of South Africa’s Burchell’s zebra, the only zebra species that can be legally farmed for its meat. Zebra meat can also be sold in the U.S., say health officials, although it may still be hard to find. “Game meat, including zebra meat, can be sold [in the US] as long as the animal from which it is derived is not on the endangered species list,” an official with the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) told TIME. “As with all foods regulated by FDA, it must be safe, wholesome, labeled in a manner that is truthful and not misleading, and fully compliant with the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act and its supporting regulations.”

Like many high-protein meats, zebra is packed with zinc and omega 3 fatty-acids that contribute to muscle repair, maintaining the immune system and improving heart health. Penn State’s Penny M. Kris-Etherton, professor of nutrition, recently conducted a study examining heart benefits of lean beef, showing that along with an optimal lean-protein diet, lean meat may help reduce high blood pressure. And for the more adventurous eaters, there are a growing number of options, from bison sausage to ostrich patties and venison steaks. And now, zebra filets, presumably minus the stripes.

TIME politics

Montana Senator’s Plagiarism Scandal Has a Silver Lining

John Walsh
Sen. John Walsh, D-Mont., speaks during an event in the Capitol Visitor Center on the importance of the Land and Water Conservation Fund, July 23, 2014. Tom Williams—CQ-Roll Call,Inc.

Sen. Walsh's mental health may have nothing to do with lifting from other scholars, but the acknowledgement of PTSD and depression reveals a changing moment in politics.

Sen. John Walsh (D – Montana) is being accused of plagiarism for failing to properly cite the work of others in the master’s thesis he wrote while at the Army War College in 2007. Indeed, it has been widely reported that as much as a quarter of what the senator wrote—and presented as his own work—may have been the ideas and/or words of other prominent experts on Middle East policy.

When asked about this apparent transgression, Sen. Walsh stated that he believed he had done nothing wrong. He didn’t recall using sources improperly, but he is considering apologizing to scholars he failed to cite. A campaign aide for the senator acknowledged the plagiarism, but indicated that Sen. Walsh did not intend to deceive anyone and that his actions should be viewed in the context of a successful military career during which he was a highly decorated officer who served with distinction in the Montana National Guard. The aide noted that Sen. Walsh was going through a difficult period in 2007. One of the soldiers from his unit in Iraq had committed suicide during this time. The senator has acknowledged that he is being treated for post-traumatic stress disorder. He is currently taking antidepressant medication as part of this treatment.

We can’t know what Sen. Walsh intended when he failed to include citations for ideas that were not his when he wrote his thesis seven years ago. One indication of whether this act represents a flaw in the senator’s character, a lapse in judgment, or a failure to understand academic standards and practices is to look for a similar pattern of behavior—or lack thereof—across his life and career. Those on both sides of the political spectrum will be doing just that as this story unfolds.

Some are asking if there is a relationship between PTSD and plagiarism. There is none—at least not a direct one. There is, however, a clear relationship between the experience of trauma and possible impairment across a number of areas, including cognitive and emotional functioning. The relationship is even stronger if you experience repeated trauma. Imagine driving to work and having a head-on collision on the highway. Miraculously you walk away with no physical injuries, but others around you die. Imagine that this happens to you not once but several times over the course of several months or a year. You begin to have difficulty sleeping, concentrating and focusing. You might feel depressed, you might have flashbacks, and you most certainly will have guilt and possibly shame. Could this experience of repeated trauma affect your judgment or your ability to process information critical to your success in your relationships, at school, or in your career? Absolutely.

Though the consequences – if any – of Sen. Walsh’s actions in 2007 are yet to be determined, it is important that we continue to have conversations and discussions about the very real impact that trauma can have on someone’s long-term functioning. We need these discussions not because we should excuse behavior that is inappropriate, unethical or criminal, but because one in four Americans suffer from diagnosable mental health conditions, along with the trauma that often creates those conditions. Sometimes war causes these injuries, sometimes a natural disaster, or a rape, or an assault. Sometimes it is a bad role of the genetic dice that leads to significant impairment. Isn’t it better to discuss these issues openly and, by doing so, encourage appropriate care and relieve unnecessary suffering?

Perhaps one silver lining resulting from the last 13 years of war—and many tragic stories of those who have struggled upon their return from battle—is that we as a nation are becoming a bit more comfortable with the topic of mental health. Until now, few if any politicians or other public or military officials have been willing to admit they have a mental health issue, let alone suggest it may have clouded their judgment. Perhaps we are more willing to entertain the possibility that the cause of someone’s behavior just might be a bit more complicated than we think. After all, mental health is a part of the human condition. We all experience it, and sometimes the difference between being mentally sharp and healthy or not depends on whether we swerve the wrong way, are born with the wrong DNA or watch a buddy die in combat.

Barbara Van Dahlen, named to the TIME 100 in 2012, is a licensed clinical psychologist and the founder and president of Give an Hour. A notable expert on the psychological impact of war on troops and families, Dr. Van Dahlen has become a thought leader in mobilizing civilian constituencies in support of active duty service members, veterans and their families.

TIME infectious diseases

Ebola Virus Suspected in Lagos, Nigeria

Members of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) put on protective gear at the isolation ward of the Donka Hospital in Conakry, Guinea on July 23, 2014.
Members of Doctors Without Borders (MSF) put on protective gear at the isolation ward of the Donka Hospital in Conakry, Guinea on July 23, 2014. Cellou Binani—AFP/Getty Images

Samples have been sent to the WHO for testing

The deadly Ebola virus that has killed hundreds across West Africa may have hit Africa’s most populous city, according to a Thursday statement from the country’s ministry of health.

Officials in Lagos, Nigeria are testing a Liberian man after he collapsed at the city’s airport displaying symptoms of the disease. Government representatives also expressed concern because the man worked and lived in Liberia where the disease is prevalent. Blood samples have been sent to the World Health Organization to be tested.

The virus has spread rapidly since an outbreak earlier this year, and health organizations have said they are struggling to control its spread.

In a statement, Nigerian health officials asked that residents “remain calm and take appropriate measures for the prevention and control of the disease.” These prevention measures include avoiding contact with people or animals suspected of having the disease.

While the outbreak has killed hundreds already in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, it could be especially damaging if it hit Lagos, an urban center with a population of 21 million.

TIME Nutrition

Why Your Bottled Water Contains Four Different Ingredients

Getty Images

Water you buy in the store is not just hydrogen and oxygen. Here's why food producers add all those extra ingredients.

Next time you reach for a bottle of water on store shelves, take a look at the ingredient list. You’re likely to find that it includes more than just water.

Popular bottled water brand Dasani, for example, lists magnesium sulfate, potassium chloride, and salt alongside purified water on its Nutrition Facts label. SmartWater contains calcium chloride, magnesium chloride, and potassium bicarbonate. Nestle Pure Life’s list includes calcium chloride, sodium bicarbonate, and magnesium sulfate. And these are just a few brands. Bottled water companies are purifying water, but then they’re adding extra ingredients back.

None of this should be cause for health concerns, says Marion Nestle, professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health and professor of Sociology at New York University. The additives being put into water are those naturally found in water and the quantities of these additives are likely too small to be of much significance. “If you had pure water by itself, it doesn’t taste have any taste,” says Bob Mahler, Soil Science and Water Quality professor at the University of Idaho. “So companies that sell bottled water will put in calcium, magnesium or maybe a little bit of salt.”

Taste tests have revealed that many people find distilled water to taste flat as opposed to spring waters, which can taste a bit sweet. Minerals offer a “slightly salty or bitter flavors,” which is likely why low mineral soft waters have a more appealing taste, Nestle wrote in her book What To Eat.

Many of the ingredients that are added to bottled water occur naturally in tap water and in our daily diets. Potassium chloride, for example, is a chemical compound that is often used as a supplement for potassium, which benefits heart health and aids normal muscular and digestive functions. Magnesium chloride, magnesium sulfate, and calcium chloride are all inorganic salts.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends that Americans reduce current levels of sodium intake by 2,300 mg per day, so you would have to drink a lot of water to make much of a difference, Nestle says. The typical amount of sodium in water averages at around 17 mg per liter.

But just because additives are generally naturally occurring ingredients doesn’t mean that consumers shouldn’t look at labels. If labels show calories, that means sugars have been added. Some bottled waters can be high in sodium, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends only drinking water that contains 20 mg of sodium per liter or less.

The best choice that many water consumers can make may be to just stick to drinking tap water. “To the extent that tap water is clean and free of harmful contaminants,” says Nestle, “it beats everything in taste and cost.”

TIME White House

Michelle Obama’s Pro-Water (Soda Silent) Campaign Makes Waves

Michelle Obama
First lady Michelle Obama, a longtime supporter of healthier eating and physical fitness, is surrounded by children as she expands her push for America to drink more water, at a "Drink Up" event at the White House. J. Scott Applewhite—AP

“I’m confident that in the coming months and years we will see people across the country drinking more and more water."

First Lady Michelle Obama devoted Tuesday afternoon to telling Americans to drink less sugary soda, without actually saying anything bad about sugary soda.

It’s been nearly a year since the First Lady launched the “Drink Up” campaign, a subset of the signature effort to promote healthy choices for kids that focuses on water. But instead of attacking the sugary, carbonated drinks and juices that contribute to the widening waistlines of our nation’s kids, “Drink Up” attempted to flood the market with positive, pro-water messaging.

At an event in the White House State Dining Room, the first lady said those who have been involved in promoting “Drink Up”—from the American Beverage Association to the Obama’s Portuguese water dog Sunny —have succeeded in making water “cool.” “I’m confident that in the coming months and years we will see people across the country drinking more and more water,” Obama said.

Their efforts have been proof that when you market and promote healthy choices as fervently as junk food, “then kids actually get excited about these products, and families actually buy them and consume them,” Mrs. Obama added. Seven organizations, including Brita, Nalgene, Haws Corporation, and S’well bottle, recently joined the campaign to promote the consumption and accessibility of water. And so far, according to a study conducted by Nielsen Catalina Solutions on the impact of the “Drink Up” campaign, online ads have helped fuel a 3% lift in sales of bottled water, worth about $1 million.

It’s good news for a campaign that came out the gate to criticism from nearly all sides. Some argued Mrs. Obama’s messaging about the benefits of water, which she called a natural “energy drink,” was inflated. Others said she should be promoting drinking tap water over bottled for the sake of the environment. While many were critical of the fact that instead of vilifying soda companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi she partnered with them, which seemed contradictory given the direct link from sugary drinks to obesity.

“It’s less a public health campaign than a campaign to encourage drinking more water. To that end, we’re being completely positive,” Lawrence Soler, president and CEO of Partnership for a Healthier America, said at the time of the campaign’s launch. “Only encouraging people to drink water; not being negative about other drinks. “

A year later, however, tensions have cooled. “It’s terrific that the First Lady is working to make water more available, more cool,” said Margot Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Increasing the appeal is one part of what needs to be done to reduce the consumption of other beverages.”

And meanwhile, First Lady Obama has gotten tougher on her efforts to promote healthier lifestyles. Though Tuesday was about fun and positivity—a group of local YMCA kids on the South Lawn even “surprised” the First Lady with a 60-by-40 foot water drop made out of 2,000 “Drink Up” branded reusable bottles—the anti-junk undertones didn’t go unnoticed. She even took time to mention the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s healthy school lunch standards she championed in 2010 and has been fighting since May to protect.

On Tuesday, the general message was, “don’t give up on our kids.”

“We need to keep working together within industries and across industries to help our kids lead healthier lives,” the First Lady said. ” And if we do all that, then I am confident — I continue to be confident that we can give our kids the bright, healthy futures they deserve.”

This story was updated to clarify that the survey on Drink Up was performed by Nielsen Catalina Solutions, a joint venture between The Nielsen Company and Catalina Marketing Corporation.

TIME celebrity

The Problem With Celebrities Who Tell You How to Live

Blake Lively arrives for the screening of the film "Captives" at the 67th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 16, 201.
Blake Lively arrives for the screening of the film "Captives" at the 67th edition of the Cannes Film Festival in Cannes, southern France, on May 16, 201. Valery Hache—AFP/Getty Images

Health is the new wealth: Just ask Blake, Gwyneth, Jessica and Ellen

Somewhere in Greenwich Village, it’s reported that Leonardo Di Caprio’s apartment lighting is synching up with his circadian rhythms. At least that’s one of the features his health-centric building advertises. On a recent visit to the Delos Living loft-style apartments in New York City, which are designed with posture-supportive flooring and ultraviolet lights to sterilize airborne microbes, I got a sneak peak into the lifestyles of the rich and health conscious. As the elevator doors opened, Deepak Chopra, prominent alternative medicine practitioner, stepped out in a t-shirt. He too, lives in the building currently offering a penthouse for $50 million.

(MORE: 5 Celebrities Who Want to Tell You How to Live)

If you’re willing to pay the price, you can not only afford a luxury apartment with cleaner air, but a yoga teacher who makes house calls, a fitness concierge who makes sure you get to workouts on time, healthy meals delivered to your doorstep. Is the good life still getting you down? If you can foot a $1818 bill, you can escape to Sri Lanka for a two-week wellness vacation.

Gone are the days of flaunting lavish apartments and cars for the MTV “Cribs” camera crews, instead, we see Instagram posts of up to $235 rejuvenating skin care products and celebrity trainers. Exit opulent mansions, enter evidence of impeccable physical health.

Wellness is the new wealth. And we all want some of that glow. Steady growth of 7.2% per year for the health and wellness market is expected to continue, with global sales hitting a record high of $1 trillion by 2017. Wellness tourism—travel that promotes health through physical and spiritual activities from meditation retreats to weight loss spas–is a $439 billion industry worldwide.

And who better to pander to our desires for the latest and greatest in self improvement than today’s batch of celebrities who no longer simply sell us a new vodka, perfume, or eye shadow, but instead offer how-to guides using their own lives displayed via perfectly curated lifestyle blogs.

The queen of selling us the good life is of course, actress Gwyneth Paltrow, whose personal blog, Goop, provides recipes for her white pear kimchi, or the chai gingerbread shake in her winter cleanse. She’s even pushing the trendy new way to end a marriage.

Talk show host Ellen DeGeneres recently announced that she will be launching, E.D., her new lifestyle brand in late October/early November. Though she remained tight lipped about the details to WWD, she will reportedly offer everything from home décor to fashion. Jessica Alba even has her own brand of organic baby products. And this week, actress Blake Lively joined the crowd with the launch of her lifestyle brand, Preserve. The site, which highlights trends in food, style and wellness, sells everything from curry ketchup to earrings. In her editor’s letter Lively writes: “I’m no editor, no artisan, no expert. And certainly no arbiter of what you should buy, wear. Eat.” And yet…

This new wave of celebrities are no longer just actresses and performers, they’re brands, and they’re selling us a blueprint for the most intimate aspects of life. Martha Stewart built her empire by showing women how to create cute crafts and put together the perfect 4th of July spread, but she never provided a detailed outline of her own day-to-day activities, like what products she uses and her latest workout. Oprah got a lot closer, with her former TV show and O magazine, flagging inspiring stories and offering recommendations on what women should read how to get their to do lists done.

And in 2014, it’s clear that wellness is becoming something worth lusting over as much as the perfect table setting, and in many cases, it’s a luxury item. Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder has sold about 1.6 million copies promoting the idea that true success means paying heed to well being, taking meditation breaks at work and getting more sleep.

Hotels like the W and Westin are catering to the growing interest among guests to be healthy. Westin hotel rooms are part hotel room, part mini-gym with a treadmill or stationary bike, dumbbells, fitness DVDs, resistance bands and stability balls built into individual rooms. In May, the W launched a fitness program with in-room exercise videos. Renowned hospital, the Cleveland Clinic, even has a clinic that specifically treats big-name business executives (Oprah is a patient).

But how easy is it to adopt the lifestyles of the rich and extremely well? Just ask Rachel Bertsche, author of the new book, “Jennifer, Gwyneth, & Me.” She spent eight months trying to imitate the lives of celebrities like Jennifer Aniston, Jessica Alba and Gwyneth Paltrow following their eating, exercise and marriage philosophies for a month each. “There is absolutely a rush when you’re feeling like you’re living that glamorous lifestyle,” she says. “I think Gwyneth Paltrow has made a business of saying ‘here is my fabulous life’ and suggesting things that are attainable. But stars are not just like us, and we are not just like them.” By the end of Bertsche’s chapter on Gwyneth she sounds like she’s close to tears and starvation.

Meanwhile, one third of the general populace is still obese, and the majority of us are not getting adequate exercise nor do enough of us have regular access to fresh food, raw, macrobiotic or otherwise. Americans work long hours—among the longest in the industrailized world—and we’re stressed out. Forty-three percent of U,S. adults report stress has kept them awake at night. But often times it’s easier to simply click through Gwyneth’s recipes for appetizers like beet-cured gravlax than take that time and money to make ourselves better based on her recommendations. It’s sort of like window shopping high-luxury stores. The reality is that look and admire is all many of us can do.

Making health and wellness a luxury that only a select few can afford isn’t helpful, especially since there are so many simple ways to achieve better health by opting for healthier food (even in the frozen aisle) and being more physically active (even just a walk can help). If a juice cleanse is really part of a simple healthy lifestyle (which I will argue until I am blue in the face that it’s not) then why does a one-day package cost $65? Making health “trendy” has its benefits, surely we’ve seen enough of celebrities touting late night boozing and drug use. But when a market emerges that transforms wellness into something only attainable for the 1%, health disparities become ever more visible, and we lose sight of what it means to really be “well.”

 

TIME poverty

Here Are the 5 Worst States for a Child’s Well-Being

Children try to do their homework at an evacuation shelter in a high school gymnasium in Kentwood, Louisiana on August 30, 2012.
Children try to do their homework at an evacuation shelter in a high school gymnasium in Kentwood, Louisiana on August 30, 2012. Frederic J. Brown—AFP/Getty Images

Child poverty rates are rising, but some states are better than others when it comes to kids' overall well-being

A new annual report on kids’ well-being finds that child poverty rates are rising across the country, with nearly a quarter of American children living in families below the poverty line.

The KIDS COUNT Data Book released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation shows that poverty rates had dropped from 1990 to 2000, but began increasing again in the early 2000s. Data shows their health and education are improving, with teen birthrates and death rates at all-time lows and more children showing proficiency in reading and math.

But with families still recovering from the recession and fewer resources available from government programs like Medicaid—as well as higher housing and transportation costs—the report finds that kids are growing up in poor households that are having trouble escaping poverty.

Northern states tend to rank better than ones in the South for kids in terms of economic status, education, health and family and community, which the authors of the study attribute to smart investments in children’s health and educational programs. Here are the five states that rank the highest and lowest for kids’ overall well-being:

Lowest

50. Mississippi

49. New Mexico

48. Nevada

47. Louisiana

46. Arizona

Highest

1. Massachusetts

2. Vermont

3. Iowa

4. New Hampshire

5. Minnesota

TIME Health Care

Johns Hopkins to Pay $190 Million to Victims of Secretly Recorded Exams

A sign stands in front of part of the Johns Hopkins Hospital complex on July 8, 2014, in Baltimore.
A sign stands in front of part of the Johns Hopkins Hospital complex on July 8, 2014, in Baltimore. Patrick Semansky—AP

A male gynecologist secretly filmed and took pictures during exams with female patients

Johns Hopkins Hospital announced on Monday that it reached a $190 million settlement with patients whose exams were secretly recorded by a gynecologist.

The class-action lawsuit involved more than 8,000 former patients of Dr. Nikita Levy, the Associated Press reports, and the deal marks one of the largest involving sexual misconduct by a doctor. Most of the discovered videos and photographs—about 1,200 videos and 140 photos—did not include the women’s faces and were taken with a pen-like camera he wore around his neck.

The case never led to criminal charges but essentially argued that Johns Hopkins should have been aware of what the doctor was doing. Levy committed suicide 10 days after he was fired in February 2013, which occurred after an employee came forward with suspicions.

Johns Hopkins released a statement in October on the discovery of Levy’s “misconduct and breach of trust,” writing: “We have redoubled our efforts to ensure that all of us in the Johns Hopkins community understand our responsibility, and we want to encourage you to speak up if you have any concerns about patient care or privacy.”

In a statement sent to reporters, Jonathan Schochor, the lawsuit’s lead attorney, said: “When learning of Dr. Levy’s behavior, our clients were extremely distraught. They felt a great breach of faith and trust. They felt betrayed. Now, with this proposed settlement, we can begin the process of healing our community.”

The settlement still needs final approval by a judge, the AP reports.

“We assure you that one individual does not define Johns Hopkins,” the hospital system said on Monday, acknowledging the settlement. “Johns Hopkins is defined by the tens of thousands of employees who come to work determined to provide world-class care for our patients and their families.”

TIME Infectious Disease

HIV Diagnosis Rate Fell by a Third in U.S. Over a Decade

HIV DIAGNOSES
This graphic shows the annual number of HIV diagnoses in the U.S., which has dropped by one-third in the past decade F.duckett—AP

A government study finds that HIV infection rates in the U.S. fell by one-third in the past decade, but young gay and bisexual men remain at high risk for the infection

(NEW YORK) — The rate of HIV infections diagnosed in the United States each year fell by one-third over the past decade, a government study finds. Experts celebrated it as hopeful news that the AIDS epidemic may be slowing in the U.S.

“It’s encouraging,” said Patrick Sullivan, an Emory University AIDS researcher who was not involved in the study.

The reasons for the drop aren’t clear. It might mean fewer new infections are occurring. Or that most infected people already have been diagnosed so more testing won’t necessarily find many more cases.

“It could be we are approaching something of a ‘ceiling effect,’” said one study leader, David Holtgrave of Johns Hopkins University.

The study was released online Saturday by the Journal of the American Medical Association. It is part of the journal’s special report on HIV research, issued ahead of the International AIDS Conference that starts Sunday in Melbourne, Australia.

HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, which destroys the immune system. The World Health Organization estimates 35 million people globally have the virus. In the United States, 1.1 million people are thought to be infected, though many don’t know it.

The study is based on HIV diagnoses from all 50 states’ health departments, which get test results from doctors’ office, clinics, hospitals and laboratories. The data span a decade, making this a larger and longer look at these trends than any previous study, said another study author, Amy Lansky of the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The findings: 16 out of every 100,000 people ages 13 and older were newly diagnosed with HIV in 2011, a steady decline from 24 out of 100,000 people in 2002.

Declines were seen in the rates for men, women, whites, blacks, Hispanics, heterosexuals, injection drug users and most age groups. The only group in which diagnoses increased was young gay and bisexual men, the study found.

The diagnosis rate is a direct measure of when people actually tested positive for the virus. The diagnoses may be identifying infections that happened recently or years before.

The study found diagnosis rates dropped even as the amount of testing rose. In 2006, the CDC recommended routine HIV testing for all Americans ages 13 to 64, saying an HIV test should be as common as a cholesterol check. The percentage of adults ever tested for HIV increased from 37 percent in 2000 to 45 percent in 2010, according to CDC data.

Lansky acknowledged that given the testing increases, the new findings may seem like a bit of a paradox. One might assume that “if more people get tested, you’re more likely to find more people who are infected,” she said.

But several factors could explain the decline.

One is Holgrave’s ‘ceiling effect’ theory. Another is a possible ebb in new infections.

The CDC has been estimating about 50,000 new infections occur each year and that number has been holding steady in the past decade. That estimate comes from reports from 25 city and state health departments, joined with statistical modeling.

Lansky said maybe new infections are waning. Or maybe not, she and other experts said.

How could new infections be holding steady when diagnoses are falling? Perhaps the infection count might be buoyed by the expanding epidemic in young gay and bisexual men, said Sullivan, the Emory researcher.

TIME Australia

After MH17 Ukraine Crash, Global AIDS Researchers Mourn Lost Colleagues

The cause of HIV/AIDS research will be set back because of experts lost in the Malaysia Airlines Ukraine disaster

+ READ ARTICLE

[UPDATE: 7/18/14, 11:52 AM EDT]

There was a pall over the 20th annual International AIDS Conference in Melbourne even before the crash of Flight MH17 in eastern Ukraine, which killed an estimated 100 delegates who were en route to the meeting. [Update: Later reports suggest that the number of delegates lost is much lower.]

In the past couple of years the vibrant showcase event—part serious science, part activist networking and carnivalhas been headily optimistic, as HIV treatments improved and the possibility of a cure no longer seemed so far off. “The mood is always an important part,” says Professor Mike Toole, an international communicable diseases veteran with Melbourne’s Burnet Institute who has been at the HIV/AIDS front line since the pandemic began some 30 years ago.

Toole remembers that the landmark Durban International AIDS Conference back in 2000 demonstrated to this eclectic crowd—a disparate crew of laboratory researchers, front-line health workers, activists and people living with the infection—their powerful potential. It was in Durban that the commitment to deliver then-prohibitively expensive antiretroviral drugs to the world’s poorest populations ignited, and was carried through over the next few years by organizations like The Global Fund and the U.S. President’s Emergency Fund for Aids Relief.

The past two International Aids Society (IAS) meetings, in Vienna and Washington DC, have been buoyed by signals that a breakthrough was close, and the expectation was that the momentum would continue into Melbourne. Then, barely a week ago, came a serious blow. For over a year many members of the HIV/AIDS community had been pinning their hopes for a breakthrough on the so-called Mississippi baby, an HIV-positive infant that had apparently been cured through aggressive drug treatment soon after birth. But on July 10, news came, that the child was showing symptoms that the virus had returned.

Although there are other programs that indicate that it might be possible to eliminate HIV infection from a human body, the apparent relapse of the Mississippi baby “depressed people incredibly,” says Toole.

Then came yesterday’s tragedy. For Toole and others HIV/AIDS experts the crash summoned up ghosts. “It reminds me of the Swissair flight, New York to Geneva, when Jonathan Mann died,” he says. Mann then the founding director of the World Health Organization’s global AIDS program was killed with several other researchers, including his wife Mary-Lou Clements-Mann, en route to AIDS meetings when the plane crashed in Canada, September 3, 1998. “I lost five friends on that flight.”

In Sydney, at a pre-conference gathering on July 18, about 200 delegates spent the day closely monitoring Twitter and exchanging snippets of news, desperate for updates on who would and would not be joining them in Melbourne. The word there was that a substantial number of the 100-plus delegates reported to be on the downed aircraft were part of the global network of activists and people living with AIDS.

With only a handful of names of the deceased confirmed by Friday, it’s difficult to measure the overall impact on HIV/AIDS research and advocacy. But the loss of internationally renowned Dutch researcher Joep Lange—a former president of the IAS—would be a massive blow. “It will have a big psychological effect,” says Toole. “He was one of the leaders in the field.”

Another known casualty was Glenn Thomas, a British media officer working for WHO in Geneva. Thomas was to be part of a media launch on July 20 revealing new tools to reduce harm to users of intravenous drugs. He was also recognized as a particularly effective communicator on the links between HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, says Toole. (The risk of developing TB is up to 20 times greater in people infected with HIV, and in 2012, of the 8.6 million new cases of TB diagnosed internationally, 1.1 million were among people with HIV.)“And the other hundred [on board]—we don’t know who they are, what it means.”

The annual AIS conferences are like no other medical gathering, says Professor Rob Moodie of the University of Melbourne, a former senior WHO official and longtime Australian public health specialist. “You have this incredible mixture of scientists and clinicians, public health people, civilian organizers, human rights activists, people who have the virus … who all have some sort of sense of ownership and collective leadership.”

The energy and collaborations of these gatherings have helped drive the huge advances achieved in understanding and responses to HIV/AIDS in a relatively short time. “We learned more about HIV in the first 10 years than we did in a century with other diseases,” says Moodie. The involvement of grassroots activist groups—as well as lab researchers—has been key to that success. MH17’s toll would not only be measured in the loss of medical expertise, but of advocacy, understanding and hard-won personal experience.

“There is a black cloud on this conference,” says Toole. “I don’t think there is anything that can retrieve that.”

Still, Toole was confident that delegates would be driven to achieve as much as they could in memory of their colleagues. He welcomed the move by the City of Melbourne on July 18 to cancel fireworks that had been scheduled to kick off the conference, but was disappointed that that’s night fixture in the Australian Football League competition—to which AIDS2014 delegates had been given tickets as part of the cultural program—did not pause for a minute of silence.

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