Elton John, Prince Harry, seek to ‘smash’ HIV stigma

British musician Elton John embraces a participant as Britain’s Prince Harry looks on during a panel “Breaking barriers of inequity in the HIV response” during the 22nd International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2018), the largest HIV/AIDS-focused meeting in the world, in Amsterdam, Netherlands, July 24, 2018. (Reuters)
Updated 24 July 2018

Elton John, Prince Harry, seek to ‘smash’ HIV stigma

  • The celebrity duo lent their mega-wattage star power to efforts to end the lingering stigma around HIV
  • The target of their initiative, dubbed the MenStar Coalition, is young men

AMSTERDAM: Elton John and Britain’s Prince Harry launched a $1.2 billion initiative Tuesday to “break the cycle” of HIV transmission as scientists announced disappointing results in the quest for an AIDS cure.
On the second day of a major international AIDS conference in Amsterdam, the celebrity duo lent their mega-wattage star power to efforts to end the lingering stigma around HIV, and protect future generations against it.
The target of their initiative, dubbed the MenStar Coalition, is young men — among whom infections are on the rise.
“Young people are the only age group where HIV infections are rising, not falling,” warned rock star and veteran AIDS campaigner John.
“We have to do much, much more to bring men, especially younger men, more fully into the fold” — so also shielding their sexual partners, he insisted.
Men aged 24 to 35 were accessing HIV testing and treatment at “unacceptably low rates,” said the flamboyant singer.
“If we want to win this fight, if we want to end AIDS once and for all, we must make men part of the solution” and give them the tools to protect themselves as well as “their wives and girlfriends, their sisters, and daughters, but also critically their brothers and their sons.”
Some 15,000 delegates — researchers, campaigners, activists and people living with the HIV virus which causes AIDS — have gathered for a five-day global council of war amid warnings the AIDS epidemic could yet spiral out of control.
A renewed focus on preventing infection, with rates surging in some regions — particularly eastern Europe and central Asia, is critical as the scientific quest for a vaccine and cure continues.
On Monday, researchers reported setbacks in a number of studies and trials.
“A cure remains a top scientific priority,” said researcher Sharon Lewin of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity at the University of Melbourne.
However, “what we’ve learnt, I think over the last decade: this is going to be a very difficult scientific challenge.”
Experts reported worrying cases of birth defects among women using a promising new drug, and said that “feminizing” hormone therapy appears to lower concentrations of virus-suppressing medicine in the blood.
A trial to test a new strategy to “kick” the AIDS-causing HIV virus out of its hiding place in human cells, then “kill” it, also yielded a disappointing outcome.
Experts this week warned that the epidemic which has killed 35 million people so far, may resurge due to political “apathy” and a resultant shortage of funding.
“The progress we have fought so hard for is at risk from a dangerous complacency,” Prince Harry told conference delegates.
The new initiative was focused on “the tough but essential work of truly changing mindsets,” he said.
“Inspired by the growing alarm of the rate of new HIV infections among young women, this campaign is bravely tackling the root of this problem — the lack of awareness of HIV prevention among hard-to-reach young men.”
He urged people to unite around the “smashing of a deadly stigma” surrounding HIV, “and calling out the prejudice that is still there.”
South African actress Charlize Theron agreed, while also raising a flag for women.
The epidemic is “not just about sex or sexuality,” she said. “We know it is linked to the second-class status of women and girls worldwide.”
Some 37 million people live with HIV today, with some 1.8 million new infections recorded last year.
UNAIDS estimates the global fight is short some $7 billion (six billion euros) per year.


Jersey City attack being investigated as domestic terrorism

Updated 13 December 2019

Jersey City attack being investigated as domestic terrorism

  • Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said the attack was driven by hatred of Jews and law enforcement and is being investigated as an act of domestic terrorism
  • The attackers killed three people in the store, in addition to a police officer at a cemetery about a mile away, before dying in an hourslong gunbattle with police

JERSEY CITY: The couple who burst into a kosher market in Jersey City with assault weapons appear to have acted alone even though they had expressed interest in a fringe religious group that often disparages whites and Jews, New Jersey officials said.
Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said the attack was driven by hatred of Jews and law enforcement and is being investigated as an act of domestic terrorism.
The two killers were armed with a variety of weapons, including an AR-15-style rifle and a shotgun that they were wielding when they stormed into the store in an attack that left the scene littered with several hundred shell casings, broken glass and a community in mourning. A pipebomb was also found in a stolen U-Haul van.
“The outcome would have been far, far worse” if not for the Jersey City Police, Grewal said Thursday. Authorities noted that a Jewish school is next to the market, and a Catholic school is across the street.
The attackers killed three people in the store, in addition to a police officer at a cemetery about a mile away, before dying in an hourslong gunbattle with police Tuesday afternoon, authorities said.
“The evidence points toward acts of hate. I can confirm that we’re investigating this matter as potential acts of domestic terrorism fueled both by anti-Semitism and anti-law enforcement beliefs,” the attorney general said. He said social media posts, witness interviews and other evidence reflected the couple’s hatred of Jews and police.
Grewal noted that after killing three people in the store, the couple concentrated their fire on police and did not shoot at others who happened to be on the streets.
Grewal said the attackers, David Anderson, 47, and Francine Graham, 50, had expressed interest in a fringe religious group called the Black Hebrew Israelites, whose members often rail against Jews and whites. But he said there was no evidence so far that they were members, and added that the two were believed to have acted alone.
The pair brought their cache of weapons in a U-Haul van they drove from Bay View Cemetery, where they shot and killed Jersey City Detective Joseph Seals, according to the attorney general.
Anderson fired away with the AR-15-style rifle as he entered the store, while Graham brought a 12-gauge shotgun into the shop. They also had handguns with a homemade silencer and a device to catch shell casings. In all, they had five guns — four recovered in the store, one in the van — in what Grewal called a “tremendous amount of firepower.”
Serial numbers from two of the weapons showed that Graham purchased them in Ohio in 2018, the attorney general said.
The victims killed in the store were: Mindel Ferencz, 31, who with her husband owned the grocery; 24-year-old Moshe Deutsch, a rabbinical student from Brooklyn who was shopping there; and store employee Douglas Miguel Rodriguez, 49. A fourth person in the store was shot and wounded but managed to escape, authorities said.
Members of New York’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish community gathered Wednesday night for funerals for Ferencz and Deutsch. Thousands of people, mostly men, followed Ferencz’s casket through the streets of Brooklyn, hugging and crying.
The bloodshed in the city of 270,000 people across the Hudson River from New York City spread fear through the Jewish community and weighed heavily on the minds of more than 300 people who attended a vigil Wednesday night at a synagogue about a mile from where the shootings took place.
In the deadliest attack on Jews in US history, 11 people were killed in an October 2018 shooting at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Last April, a gunman opened fire at a synagogue near San Diego, killing a woman and wounding a rabbi and two others.