HIV: Saving One Life at a Time. Preventing infants from getting HIV from their mothers

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Morning Forum speaker addresses crisis of HIV infections in 3rd-world newborns
Dr. Arthur Ammann said 80 percent to 85 percent of HIV infections in newborns occur in resource-poor countries.

The March 3 session of the Morning Forum of Los Altos did not offer a light-hearted program. Dr. Arthur Ammann, clinical professor of pediatrics at UC San Francisco Medical Center and founder/president of Global Strategies for HIV Prevention, addressed a sober topic, “HIV: Saving One Life at a Time: Preventing Infants from Getting Infected with HIV from Their Mothers.”

Ammann said that during the 28 years of the AIDS epidemic, tremendous progress has been made in developed countries, with 27 drugs available to treat the disease.

However, today 80 percent to 85 percent of the infections are in resource-poor countries where the drugs are too expensive to be available to the most needy. There the emphasis must be on prevention.

Global Strategies, a non-profit, nongovernmental, nonpolitically aligned independent organization, is committed to preventing HIV infection and caring for those affected by HIV in underdeveloped countries.

More than 1,600 newborns are infected through their mothers every day in those countries. But, for the low cost of less than $1, transmission of HIV from mother to baby can be cut by 50 percent in poor countries, according to Ammann.

Nevirapine, an anti-retroviral costing less than $1 per treatment, given to both the HIV-infected mother and child at the time of delivery can reduce infection approximately 90 percent. The therapy works effectively because 60 percent to 70 percent of HIV infections occur during birth.

Global Strategies provides the drug in the Dominican Republic, Liberia and the Congo, because such countries don’t receive international aid. Liberia’s population of 3.5 million could be treated for $300,000, but although people in the cities are receiving treatments, those in the country still are not.

A major way to prevent the spread of HIV is to protect young women from infection.

A woman who has sex with an infected man is eight times more likely to become infected than vice versa, Ammann said. Rape is used as a weapon of war in many countries to make a woman useless to herself, family, community and culture.

Ammann said it is possible to give a woman a prophylaxis kit that can prevent pregnancy, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.

Global Strategies for HIV Prevention is working on all these issues.

For more information, visit

First woman chief of a major Native American tribe addresses Morning Forum

The Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation, Wilma Mankiller, returned to the Los Altos Morning Forum May 5 to discuss “What It Means to Be an Indigenous Person in the 21st Century.”

President Bill Clinton awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian award in the United States, to Mankiller, the first woman to hold the post in a major tribe, in 1998.

Mankiller served as the Morse Chair Professor of Law and Politics at the University of Oregon and authored “Mankiller: A Chief and Her People” (St. Martin’s Griffin, 1989) and “Every Day Is a Good Day: Reflections on Contemporary Indigenous Women” (Fulcrum, 2004).

She began the lecture by speaking of the 300 million indigenous people who have a unique history, language, culture and system of governance. These groups face common challenges in their fight to protect their lands, natural resources and cultural practices in the face of different cultures and governments. The battle to protect human and land rights is immeasurably difficult, according to Mankiller, because few people understand the history and culture of indigenous people.

In 2007 the United Nations General Assembly passed the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples with a majority of 141 votes. The United States, New Zealand, Australia and Canada voted against it and 11 nations abstained. The declaration protects self-determination and treaty rights. Mankiller expects the new administration to reconsider the vote.

If native people become filmmakers, writers, historians, museum curators and journalists, she said, they will change public perceptions using an array of technological tools to tell their stories in their own voices.

With approximately 250,00 members, the Cherokee Nation administers its own judicial system and police force, operates schools and hospitals and manages business enterprises.

The Cherokees established free and compulsory education in1839. Native American enrollment in colleges has doubled in the past 25 years.

Mankiller defined an indigenous person of the 21st century as one who acknowledges past injustice but never allows himself or herself to be paralyzed into inaction by anger about the past or the totality of present-day challenges.

Morning forum is a members-only lecture series held at Los Altos United Methodist Church. For more information, visit

Morning Forum highlights legacy of California New Deal projects

Gray Brechin spoke to Morning Forum about the legacy of the New Deal in California.

Historian and geographer Gray Brechin, founder of the California Living New Deal Project, examined the legacy of the New Deal in California during “Rediscovering the Lost Landscape of the New Deal in California,” an April 21 Morning Forum presentation.

The New Deal project identifies, maps, photographs and interprets the physical legacy of the “alphabet soup” of government agencies created to put people to work on public projects during the Great Depression. Brechin compared the 1930s to the today’s economy.

“The lessons of the New Deal are more timely every day,” he said.

He showed a vintage black and white Dorothea Lange photograph of slumping unemployed workers titled “Despair,” then a similar current photo, noting, “Today, the scene is the same, but in color.”

Brechin, a Los Altos native, earned a doctorate in geography from UC Berkeley, where he serves as visiting scholar.

What began as a study of the projects most Californians accept without thought about their origin – buildings, schools, roads, airports, murals, paintings, trails, parks, golf courses, tennis courts, dams, power stations and water systems – became a larger study of the effects of the Depression and the “social gospel” embraced by the Roosevelt administration. The “social gospel” promulgated the belief that as Christians, citizens had an obligation to help those less fortunate and, in the process, build a civilization worthy of the name.

“The New Deal projects improved the lives of millions of people,” Brechin said. “No other country has been modernized in such a short period of time.”

According to Brechin, the Civilian Conservation Corps employed 3 million 18- to 25-year-old men in thousands of camps, reclaiming soils and building state, national and regional parks. They were paid $30 per month and required to send $25 home to their families.

Workers were free to leave the program at any time, but few did. Flood Park in Menlo Park, the amphitheater on Mount Tamalpais and Temescal and Tilden parks in Berkeley are among the many local CCC projects.

Brechin said that California had the best state parks in the country, but the system is now in decline because money is not being spent on maintenance and upkeep.

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) put 8.5 million people to work, “doing everything,” Brechin said. The hired workers built roads, bridges, schools, libraries, city halls, fire stations, post offices, armories and hospitals and employed artists and writers.

WPA completed the Bay Bridge, the Hetch Hetchy water system and the Caldecott Tunnel. Palo Alto’s power station and water system were WPA projects, as was San Francisco City College.

WPA murals can be seen at Rincon Center, Coit Tower, the Bath House at Aquatic Park and the San Francisco Zoo.

Brechin said he disagrees with present-day critics who argue that World War II, not the New Deal, lifted the country out of the Depression.

“The economy was growing, except for the recession of 1937-1938,” he said. “Roosevelt thought that the country was recovered, and stopped the programs, which triggered that recession.”

He noted that while the New Deal did increase the national debt, it was nothing like the increase in debt caused by the war.

Although there are a plethora of New Deal projects in California, Brechin said finding them is like an “archaeological dig” because the compilation of records and reports was interrupted by the war. The Living New Deal Project is the first comprehensive cataloguing ever attempted.

He asked that the public submit information about sites and projects in their areas, personal memories of the era and any pertinent photographs to

Morning Forum is a members-only lecture series held at Los Altos United Methodist Church. For more information, visit

Morning Forum speaker relays the quirky culture of Italy – with her hands

Written by Kathryn Tomaino

Anne Robichaud, an official Umbrian regional tour guide, brought the sunny culture of Italy to rain-soaked Los Altos Feb. 17, telling a Morning Forum audience that there’s only one true way to speak Italian – with your hands.

Robichaud, a Wisconsin native by birth and an Italian by choice, has lived in Italy since 1973, adopting the Umbrian culture.

“In my years living in Italy, I came to realize that culture is not something you acquire but something you are,” she said.

She presented an outline of the qualities that characterize Italians and demonstrated the accompanying gestures to communicate each one.

The hierarchy of Italian community begins with the family, then moves to the section of town, then to the town, then to the region and, finally, to the country – especially the country when the World Cup is involved. Nearly 70 percent of the wealth in Italy is from small to medium-sized family businesses. It is not surprising that the most offensive Italian hand gesture is found in this realm, Robichaud said. It is the extension of all the fingers of the hand but the middle two, which communicates to a man that his wife cuckolds him.

Although 26 percent of Italians are self-proclaimed Catholics, only a fifth of them attend Mass, Robichaud said, adding that usually it is the older Italians praying for younger family members. Robichaud related an amusing anecdote about a cloistered nun that seems to sum up Italians’ attitudes about authority. A member of the public wanted to view a “Miraculous Tree” in the cloistered convent garden. Completely contrary to the principle of cloistered isolation and without a moment’s hesitation, the nun permitted the viewing. She confidently explained her actions: “If you follow laws too closely, you might be considered stupid!”

Robichaud said a hand signal indicating boredom with pedantry would be the stroking of an imaginary facial beard, while uttering “Che barba!” This translates roughly to, “It was so boring, I grew a beard while listening.”

Italians have the longest life span among Europeans, with a life expectancy of 83.9 years for women and 79.9 years for men. Older citizens are respected and younger citizens adulated, Robichaud said. The simple gesture of saying goodbye signifies hope and optimism. Instead of waving a hand at a person, the hand is waved toward oneself – like a beckoning – and the sentiment is, “Arrivederci,” or “See you later,” not goodbye.

Robichaud offers trip-planning assistance, tours, cooking classes and more. For more information, visit

Politics won’t help state’s problems


Dan Walters of the Sacramento Bee outlined Californias changes for the worse during a Los Altos Morning Forum talk last week.

Politics is the means by which a society deals with its common problems – and California is failing, journalist Dan Walters told a Los Altos Morning Forum audience Oct. 8.

Walters is a longtime columnist for The Sacramento Bee and author of “The New California: Facing the 21st Century” (California Journal Press, 1992).

The California state government, established more than 150 years ago, was based on a federal system that is even older. When the U.S. Constitution was drafted, the country was agricultural, rural and only white men with property could vote. The country had just fought a war for independence and the Founding Fathers put many checks and balances into the Constitution.

The California Constitution added the recall, the referendum and the requirement that some issues, such as the budget, must earn more than a majority vote. As a result, the state can accomplish little, as seen by the recent budget impasse, Walters said.

This system worked in past years, when the state was more homogeneous, but how has it changed?

There has been economic change. The California economy was resource-based (agriculture, mining, lumber, etc.) until World War II. Then it rapidly switched to an industrial economy with manufacturing of autos, petrochemicals, steel and more.

Now the single largest segment of the state’s economy is health care, according to Walters. California’s economy has become a service economy, which changes the nature of work and the education required for that work.

Another important change has been an increase in population. The state continues to grow rapidly, largely because of immigration and a high birth rate, Walters said. This exacerbates problems such as traffic and the need for housing, jobs, education and water. California has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country at 7.7 percent.

Foreign immigration has brought cultural changes, he said. Students in the California schools come from homes where approximately 100 different languages are spoken. And after two years of drought, the state has done nothing to increase water supplies. The state has yet to face the problems caused by such changes.

Nothing in the state gets done because there are so many competing interests, Walters said. For example, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger promoted a Health Insurance Initiative that failed in the Legislature because there were too many conflicting points of view.

Walters said that the California government needs a major change – perhaps even a constitutional convention to rewrite the constitution completely. He recommended a systemic overhaul.