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AHF Donates SARS COV-2 viral sequencing machine to the Caribbean

“The current need and demand for genomic surveillance in the region has increased significantly, so we are extremely grateful”

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The University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine Campus (Photo Credit: UWI)

LOS ANGELES – The Los Angeles based AIDS Healthcare Foundation (AHF), the largest global AIDS organization, signed an agreement with the University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine Campus, Trinidad and Tobago to provide a gene sequencing analyzer and reagents to expand the capacity of the university to test for new and emerging variants of the coronavirus.

This will improve the region’s sequencing capacity and contribute to reducing testing turnaround times. Jamaica and many of the countries in the Region are now experiencing severe upsurges of Covid-19 caused by the Delta variant, with many hospitals exceeding capacity and others running out of oxygen. More recently five cases of the Mu variant were also identified in St. Vincent.

Dr. Kevin Harvey, the Caribbean Regional Director at AHF, in welcoming the agreement, noted that the machine is already on order and should be in place within the next two to three weeks. “The Mu variant has since been isolated in samples from Jamaica as well, making the timeliness of AHF’s donation of the gene sequencing analyzer and reagents all the more critical,” noted Dr. Harvey.  

“Our COVID-19 IMPACT project, a UWI-led collaboration with CARPHA (the Caribbean Public Health Agency) and the Trinidad and Tobago Ministry of Health, established local capacity for virus whole genome sequencing in December 2020, and our laboratory at UWI has been carrying out genomic surveillance for SARS-CoV-2 variants for Trinidad and Tobago and 16 other CARPHA member states,” said Dr. Christine Carrington, Professor of Molecular Genetics and Virology at the UWI.

“The current need and demand for genomic surveillance in the region has increased significantly, so we are extremely grateful for the AHF’s support. The device they are providing is faster and can also do five times as many samples as the device we started off with, so it will help to increase our throughput.”

Dr. Jorge Saavedra the executive Director of the AHF Global Public Health Institute at the University of Miami, highlighted the project as part of a larger initiative by AHF to improve the early detection of new variants to enable proper planning, and in some cases, expansion of existing genomic sequencing initiatives and implementation of mitigation measures in several of the countries served by AHF that can inform public policy. “AHF is also now in final negotiations to provide support to establishing genomic sequencing capacity in Jamaica to reduce the need for all samples to be sent to Trinidad and Tobago.”

AHF has also previously provided similar support to Brazil, Uganda, Mexico, India, Argentina, and before the end of the year, will undertake other similar initiatives in Nigeria, Peru, Ukraine and Pakistan.

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Caribbean

Jamaican man attacked after using gay dating app

Victim’s penis partially severed before he was set on fire

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A Jamaican and Pride flag fly on the beach in Montego Bay, Jamaica, on Oct. 15, 2018. (Photo courtesy of Maurice Tomlinson's Facebook page)

MONTEGO BAY, Jamaica — An 18-year-old Jamaican man remains hospitalized in critical condition after he was targeted on a gay dating app.

The Jamaica Gleaner reports the victim on Oct. 11 went to a neighborhood in Montego Bay, a resort city that is the capital of Jamaica’s St. James Parish, to meet the man with whom he was speaking.

The newspaper reports the man and two other men abducted the victim, robbed him and partially severed his penis before they set him on fire. Officials said the three men took his cell phone and used his bank card to withdraw money from his account.

“He is a very lucky young man because although they left him in a critical condition, he managed to make his way to a security checkpoint in the community where they assisted him to the hospital, where he was admitted in critical condition,” a local police officer told the Jamaica Gleaner.

The Jamaica Gleaner reported a 43-year-old man in St. James Parish disappeared in January 2020 after he went to meet someone with whom he had spoken on a gay dating website. Authorities later found the man’s body, and two men have been charged with his murder.

Violence against LGBTQ Jamaicans remains commonplace. Consensual same-sex sexual relations also remain criminalized in the country.

J-FLAG, a Jamaican LGBTQ rights group, has condemned the latest attack.

“Like all well-thinking Jamaicans at this time, JFLAG is outraged at the recent attack on an 18-year-old man in St. James,” tweeted J-FLAG on Sunday. “His attackers must be brought to justice.”

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Caribbean

Samantha Power meets with Dominican LGBTQ activists

Meeting took place in Santo Domingo on Oct. 7

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U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power, first from right, on Oct. 7, 2021, met with LGBTQ activists in the Dominican Republic. (Photo courtesy of Power's Twitter account)

SANTO DOMINGO, Dominican Republic — U.S. Agency for International Development Administrator Samantha Power on Oct. 7 met with LGBTQ activists in the Dominican Republic.

Diversidad Dominicana Executive Director Rosanna Marzán, Amigos Siempre Amigos Director Leonardo Sánchez, Sirana Dolis of Movimiento de Mujeres Dominico Haitianas (MUDHA) and Bridget Wooding of the Caribbean Migration and Development Observatory (OBMICA) are among those who met with Power in Santo Domingo, the Dominican capital. Power in a tweet said she also met with human rights activists who are working to “restore legal documentation” for the more than 100,000 Dominicans of Haitian descent who live in the country.

“So glad to meet these activists fighting at (sic) local and national level for equality and dignity for all,” tweeted Power.

Marzán told the Los Angeles Blade the meeting with Power was “very good.”

The Dominican Republic borders Haiti on Hispaniola.

The Dominican House of Representatives in June approved a bill that would remove sexual orientation from the country’s Penal Code. The Dominican Senate has yet to consider the measure that has sparked outrage among the country’s LGBTQ activists.

Power traveled to the Dominican Republic two months after Haitian President Jovenel Moïse’s assassination.

A 7.2 magnitude earthquake on Aug. 14 left scores of people dead and displaced hundreds of thousands of others in Haiti’s Tiburon Peninsula. Immigration Equality is among the groups that criticized the Biden administration last month over the deportation of Haitian migrants and asylum seekers from Texas.

James “Wally” Brewster was the U.S. ambassador to the Dominican Republic from 2013-2017. He is one of six openly gay men who represented the U.S. abroad during the Obama administration.

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Caribbean

Cuban president meets with LGBTQ activists in Havana

Havana gathering took place months after anti-government protests

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Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel (Photo public domain)

HAVANA — Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel on Friday met with more than a dozen LGBTQ activists.

Tremenda Nota, the Los Angeles Blade’s media partner in Cuba, reported the meeting took place at Havana’s Palace of the Revolution. Francisco Rodríguez Cruz, a gay man living with HIV who writes under the pen name Paquito el de Cuba, and Malú Cano, coordinator of Transcuba, a transgender organization that is affiliated with the National Center for Sexual Education (CENESEX), are among those who participated.

“I see it as a political will to advance the recognition of the rights of LGBTIQ+ people, an outstanding debt that the revolution has always had with us,” Cano told Tremenda Nota.

The Cuban government tweeted pictures of of the meeting. Rodríguez in a blog post notes CENESEX Director Mariela Castro, the daughter of former President Raúl Castro, was sitting next to Díaz-Canel.

Former President Fidel Castro, who was Mariela Castro’s uncle, in the years after the 1959 revolution that brought him to power sent gay men and others to work camps known by the Spanish acronym UMAP. The Cuban government until 1993 forcibly quarantined people with AIDS in state-run sanitaria.

Mariela Castro and Díaz-Canel both publicly support marriage rights for same-sex couples. Friday’s meeting took place less than a month after Cuba’s Justice Ministry released a draft of a proposed new family code that would allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot.

Yoan de la Cruz, a gay man from San Antonio de los Baños in Artemisa province who live-streamed the first of a series of anti-government protests that took place across Cuba on July 11, and hundreds of others who participated in the demonstrations remain in custody.

14ymedio, an independent website founded by Yoani Sánchez, a prominent critic of the Cuban government, earlier this week reported the country’s attorney general is seeking an 8-year prison sentence for De La Cruz. 14ymedio also notes Cuban authorities continue to hold De La Cruz “somewhat incommunicado” in a prison east of Havana.

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