Monday, August 21, 2006

Resistant Kenyan Sex Workers Have Their Genes To Thanks

Special Correspondent

Kenya's apparently HIV-resistant commercial sex workers have their genes to thank for it, a report presented at the 16th International Aids Conference in Toronto says.

According to the report by researchers from the University of Manitoba, genetic variations explain why the sex workers continue to be Aids-free despite engaging in extremely high-risk behaviour, even as some of their colleagues succumb to the disease. The report was based on follow-up studies of more than 850 commercial sex workers at the Nairobi Majengo slum, historically the city's red light district.

Over a three-year period, most of the women became HIV-positive but at least 130 remained negative despite each having unprotected sex with at least 500 men. Some of the sex workers, research data compiled by University of Nairobi researchers says, routinely have as many as 30 clients in a day.

According to the report presented in Toronto, the sex workers protection may be based on a gene called human leukocyte antigen-G, or HLA-G, which helps the immune system recognise viruses such as HIV.

Discovery of the infection-resistant commercial sex workers in the late 1990s led to the development of a test vaccine by researchers drawn from the universities of Nairobi, Oxford and Manitoba. The test vaccine was subsequently tested in dozens of volunteers in both Kenya and Britain. In 2004, researchers involved in the project announced that although the trial vaccine had been found to elicit some immune response, this was not enough to make it clinically viable.

Earlier, researchers involved in the vaccine search said that the sex workers apparent immunity was due to an immune response involving killer-T cells, which are a specialised form of white blood cells that are particularly potent against disease-causing organisms. Continuous exposure to HIV on a daily basis due to multiple clients, the researchers theorised, made the immune systems of the sex workers produce high levels of killer-T cells, thus conferring immunity. The failed test vaccine was designed to provoke this reaction without the danger of actual infection.

The findings from Majengo that there could be a genetic basis for immunity against HIV will boost the unpublished theory that there are a significant number of people who are naturally immune to HIV, although these are far out-numbered by those who are susceptible. Natural immunity, Aids experts say, could explain the high number of long-term discordant couples in regions such as East Africa with high prevalence rates. Studies elsewhere have indicated that about 3 per cent of Caucasians cannot contract HIV even when exposed.

Elsewhere, the head of Kenya's National Aids and Sexually Transmitted Infections Control Programme (Nascop), Dr Ibrahim Mohammed last week attributed the dramatic decline in HIV prevalence rates to behaviour change among the country's youth, traditionally the most vulnerable group.

In a review paper authored together with Dr Mark Dybul, the US global Aids co-ordinator of the President's Emergency Plan for Aids Relief (Pepfar), Dr Mohammed said that faithfulness to one partner among men aged 20-24 years had risen dramatically between 1998 and 2003, with those reporting contact with more than one sexual partner in the past year declining from 35 to 18 per cent.

Sex Slavery Widespread in US

NEW YORK — Raids that uncovered more than 70 suspected sex slaves focused on 20 brothels in the East, but they illustrated a long-ignored national problem found in towns large and small, experts say.

"It's a very overwhelming subject for a lot of people to recognize that there is slavery at this time in our country," said Carole Angel, staff attorney with the Immigrant Women Program of the women's rights advocacy group Legal Momentum in Washington. "It's hard for us as humans to contemplate what this means."

The concept of slavery in the 21st century is foreign to most people, agreed Jolene Smith, executive director of Free The Slaves, a Washington-based organization dedicated to ending slavery worldwide.

"Americans are conditioned to believe that slavery was a thing of the past," Smith said. "We have to reeducate ourselves about this reality."

On Tuesday, federal and local law enforcement raided brothels disguised as massage parlors, health spas and acupuncture clinics in New York, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Maryland, Rhode Island and the District of Columbia, arresting 31 people on trafficking charges.

Authorities said they also freed more than 70 sex workers, taking them to undisclosed locations for questioning and to provide basic services such as health care and food. Authorities said it might take weeks to get the Korean immigrants to trust them enough to discuss their ordeal.

"Human traffickers profit by turning dreams into nightmares," said U.S. Attorney Michael Garcia in Manhattan, where the majority of the traffickers face prosecution. "These women sought a better life in America and found instead forced prostitution and misery."

Angel said the raids should not give the impression that trafficking is limited to immigrants, who are often enticed into coming to America for legitimate jobs but then forced to work in brothels, sweatshops and restaurants to pay off debts of up to $30,000 to their traffickers.

"There are so many faces on this," she said. "It happens in rural communities, big cities. It spans all education levels, different countries, different races."

Such forced labor also thrives in agricultural and domestic work, as well as in sweatshops or unregulated industries, said Laurel Fletcher, law professor at the University of California at Berkeley International Human Rights Law Clinic.

Fletcher was one of several authors of a 2004 report believed to be the first comprehensive study of forced labor in the United States.

That study, by Free The Slaves and the Human Rights Center of the University of California at Berkeley, concluded that at least 10,000 people are forced laborers at any time across the United States.

The State Department estimates there are among up to 800,000 trafficking victims worldwide.

The Berkeley study concluded that forced labor victims came from more than 35 countries, with the most from China, followed by Mexico and Vietnam. It found reports of forced labor in at least 90 U.S. cities, most often in areas with large immigrant populations.

Fletcher cautioned that trafficking in smaller communities is likely harder to detect.

The study also concluded that prostitution and sex services accounted for 46 percent of the documented forced labor. Domestic service made up 27 percent, agriculture 10 percent, sweatshop factory work 5 percent and restaurant and hotel work 4 percent.

Julie L. Myers, assistant secretary for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said the federal government has begun numerous investigations and seized tens of millions of dollars from traffickers.

With increased investigations, the number of arrests has risen more than 400 percent in recent years, Myers said. And the amount of assets seized from human smugglers and human trafficking organizations has gone from almost nothing in 2003 to nearly $27 million in 2005, she noted.

Myers said criminals look at the slaves as a commodity.

"But we know that the victims of trafficking and smuggling are not cargo," Myers said. They are human beings who often have been mentally and physically broken down in every way possible."

Friday, August 11, 2006

Sex In Toilets Staff Sacked

FOUR civil servants have been sacked and a further five disciplined following claims that staff had sex in the toilets, jumped naked from filing cabinets and held breakdance competitions in their office.

Staff at the Rural Payments Agency, Newcastle, were also accused of drug taking at work, swearing, holding "fun-fights" in the reception area and leaving vomit in cups festering in cupboards. The lurid claims were made by a whistleblower at a time when the Rural Payments Agency, set up to make payments to farmers from Euro subsidies, left thousands of farmers penniless because of a massive backlog. As a result of the allegations, there has been an in-depth investigation.

Now four members of staff have been dismissed and five disciplined with a combination of verbal and written warnings. The agency said evidence of many of the most outlandish accusations had not been found but some "inappropriate behaviour" had taken place.
Chief executive Tony Cooper said: "I am satisfied that the correct actions have been taken to deal with the misbehaviour of the small number of individuals involved.

"While the investigation made clear many of the initial reports wereoverblown, there have been incidents of misbehaviour that are simplyunacceptable in this organisation."


Burglar Captured Masturbating While Online

A 30-year-old New Orleans man was captured Sunday after a Carrollton homeowner walked in to find him watching pornography on the Internet, New Orleans police said. He's also suspected in a string of recent burglaries in the neighborhood, police said.

Richard Barnes, who police said crawled through the doggy door of a home in the 1200 block of Lowerline Street, was caught Sunday by the home's owner after she returned from an afternoon outing, police said.

The woman unlocked her front door, walked in and almost immediately encountered Barnes masturbating while online, police said. The frightened homeowner grabbed her oversized dog and bolted from the house.

Once outside, she phoned 2nd District police. Officers arrived, took the woman's description of the burglar and headed into the neighborhood. Barnes, described by police as a "career criminal with arrests for mostly drugs and burglary," was arrested a few blocks away. At lockup Barnes consented to a DNA swab test, New Orleans police spokeswoman Sabrina Richardson said. She said investigators will now test it against a semen specimen at the burglarized home.

It may not be the only home Barnes broke into, police said. Richardson said 2nd District investigators have tentatively linked him to a string of other burglaries in the neighborhood, where residents have seen a man resembling Barnes lurking.