Wednesday, September 30, 2009

2006 Enduro Africa Video - repost

Curious about what I'll likely experience during my 2000-km off-road motorcycle Enduro Africa ride in October? Well, take a look:

Source: Enduro Africa. Video by Cass Productions.

I should add that the 2009 ride will be only 8-days long and that the organizers no longer donate the bikes to Riders for Health at the end of the trip. Donations will go to the four selected charities listed. 

Watch for the poor rider who dunks a bike and takes a bath in a stream (Time stamp ~1.10 min). That's going to be me when it is my turn, sadly.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Chocolate Enduro Africa Birthday Cake!!

And, yes, it tasted even better than it looks. It was amazing. Simply. 

A heartfelt thank you to Elizabeth, my talented and clever sweetheart.

Enduro Africa - Rehydration Sachets

Here's a friendly update from the trip organizer. Thankfully, gatorade powder's already on my packing list.

----- Forwarded Message ----
From: Enduro Africa <>
To: Enduro Africa <>
Sent: Monday, September 28, 2009 9:38:50 AM
Subject: Enduro Africa - Rehydration Sachets

Hello Enduros


We have been advised by the team in South Africa that the weather is set to be hot and humid during the trip (hard to believe looking out the window here in Bath this morning!).

We would therefore suggest that you consider bringing a supply of rehydration sachets to maintain your salt and fluid balance during the ride.These can be picked up from most major chemists/supermarkets.


As always, please give us a call in the office if you have any questions,


Kind regards


The Enduro Africa Team


Global Enduro Limited

10 Argyle Street | Bath | BA2 4BQ

Tel:         ++44 1225 33 33 00

Fax:        ++44 1225 33 33 17





Sunday, September 27, 2009

No HIV vaccine just around the corner

So, I'm lounging about on a lazy Sunday morning - as we experts in HIV prevention science so often do - plotting a quick motorcycle route through Western Maryland to help callous my backside for the start of Enduro Africa later this week. 

But then I stumbled across today's NY Times article that bungles the recent HIV vaccine trial news and, importantly, includes a misplaced quote to UK-based Riders for Health, one of the charities that inspired me to do Enduro Africa. I couldn't just sit there and do nothing.

What the Times published was a recycled piece still dripping in cynicism:

Bloggers with a taste for biostatistics — and one rival AIDS vaccine specialist who declined to be quoted — said it would take only a handful more infected Thais in the vaccine column to shift the results from “statistically significant” to meaningless. Even one more would have weakened the data enough to make headlines saying “One Quarter Protected” more likely, given the way journalists round off numbers.

Actually, the margin is even closer than that. Add a single additional infection to the group assigned to the treatment arm and the 95% confidence interval would include 1.0. In other words, the observed difference could have been statistically insignificant due to a data entry error or because someone was unable to use a condom or clean needle during a single exposure event. One person.

But this fact obscures a more important one that the author fails to appreciate: After years and years of null or adverse results from HIV vaccine trials, the unexpected findings this week open a world of possibilities that will move the ball further along. Even with that hypothetical case, the findings would still be in the same direction, pointing us to new research that could yield better understanding of the mechanisms underlying an effective immune response to HIV or shed light on why a vaccine might work for some (and not others).

Curiously, the author quotes a Riders for Health representative in making the case that access to an effective vaccine would pose a whole new set of challenges, even if the findings were a "slam dunk," as we like to say here in DC:

"Millions of children across Africa still die of measles simply because the vaccine doesn’t reach them,” said Barry Coleman, founder of Riders for Health, a British charity that buys and fixes motorcycles for African health workers. "People with AIDS don’t need," he added, “another breakthrough that does not reach those who need it most."
Very true. And one could quickly make a long list of inexpensive, efficacious health promoting technologies that go underutilized for lack of access. There certainly is a need to put greater emphasis on better disseminating existing tools that work, but should we cease looking for new prevention tools at the same time?

Without a doubt, caution is in order with respect to these vaccine trial results. And, let me be the one to say it for the record, if no one has thus far: There's no HIV vaccine just around the corner. No responsible agency would recommend licensure or scale up for a vaccine with only 31% efficacy.

Still, what we have now is movement in the right direction that may lead to broader discoveries in immunology and public health. No one has declared this product to be a "miracle." What we need most is a bit of perspective here, the cynics among us included.

See the NY Times' If AIDS went the way of smallpox 

Saturday, September 26, 2009

U.S. investments in global health pay off

More inspiration, this time from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's Living Proof Project, which is intended to provide anecdotal evidence of the returns reaped by the U.S. investment in global public health:

For more, please visit the Living Proof Project.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Mobile blog entry: Final steps

Just off the phone with the bank alerting them to my travel plans. Would hate to be locked out of my accounts due to "suspicious activity in South Africa."

Earlier, I scanned and emailed to self a back-up copy of my passport. Emailed alll itinerary info, too.

And at lunch, I'm off to get a buzz cut to keep my helmeted head from overheating when the ride starts next week.

It's starting to be very hard to focus on things other than the trip.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Promising new HIV vaccine trial results

After years of setbacks, some surprising news overnight in the effort to develop an HIV vaccine: A trial conducted by the Thai Ministry of Health, using two genetically-modified vaccines, showed evidence of partial efficacy.

Adults randomized to the intervention arm were 31% less likely to get infected with the virus that causes AIDS than were those receiving the placebo.

True, this is a modest effect. The recent male circumcision trials, which were widely considered a “home run” by the field, conferred protection on the order of 50 – 60% against female to male sexual transmission of HIV. 

But because the hunt for a vaccine has been so thoroughly trounced by the challenge, even 30% efficacy raises new hope.

The NY Times offers some of the first public comment out of NIH:

“I don’t want to use a word like ‘breakthrough,’ but I don’t think there’s any doubt that this is a very important result,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, which is one of the trial’s backers.

“For more than 20 years now, vaccine trials have essentially been failures,” he went on. “Now it’s like we were groping down an unlit path, and a door has been opened. We can start asking some very important questions.”

The news raises as many questions as it answers: Why would NIAID have supported a large Phase 3 trial for products that hadn’t shown promise in humans before? Why should the combination of two vaccines work when they hadn't worked alone?

And what are the next steps for identifying the mechanisms underlying the immune response accounting for the level of protection observed? And how soon might a vaccine be made available to those who need it most, recognizing that the product tested here may only work against HIV strains circulating in Asia.

We’ll all just have to stay tuned. Still, very, very good news in an area that had been looking pretty dismal after other recent vaccines have crashed and burned.


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

EA: Last minute equipment change for US-based riders

Breaking news: Due to a shortage of Hondas and Yamahas for Enduro Africa, trip organizers have made a minor equipment change for US-based riders (see below). 

No, I'm not happy about it either. 

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Fundraising in tough economic times

Image credit: The Nelson Mandela Children's Fund

Early in my fundraising for Enduro Africa, I emailed representatives from each of the four charities the ride will support. Here's the moving response I received from the Nelson Mandela Children's Fund:

From: Rachael Ward
To: Andrew Forsyth
Sent: Friday, March 13, 2009 11:20:09 AM
Subject: RE: Fundraising in tough economic times
Hi Andrew 
Great to hear from you and thank you very much for supporting our work through your parcticipation in Enduro Africa 2009. 

As you have pointed out - despite economic downturn and crisis in the developed world, the work that we are doing in South Africa with children in very great need continues.

Perhaps if I give you a few facts about the situation in South Africa that we are trying to deal with, that might help to support your requests for funding support: 

South Africa has the largest number of people affected by HIV in the world (5.4 million) . Women of child bearing age bear the brunt of this and that means that children are badly affected too.  

Approximately 250,000 children under 14 are living with HIV and Aids and have contracted it from their mothers at birth. Many are now being managed with anti retroviral drugs but that is still a huge strain to live under. 

In South Africa 2.5 million children have lost a parent and orphan levels could reach 5 million by 2015. Children without parents are so vulnerable to abuse and are more likely to miss out on education and health care.

The Nelson Mandela Children's Fund is working hard, and effectively, to tackle this issue in a number of ways.

We run a programme to help communities to develop the social and economic systems that mean they can identify and take care of vulnerable orphaned children. This means children are fed, clothed, educated, and hopefully, adopted by a member of the extended family or community.

Our work with older children and teenagers is about life skills and education to ensure that they do not become infected with HIV.

As well as the most vulnerable children, we are also working with disabled children to have them admitted to mainstream school.

Our programmes of skills development and leadership and excellence aim to develop young people's skills for work to enable them to have a more secure future.

Please let me know if you have any questions or I can help in any way.

With very best wishes 

Rachael Ward

Friday, September 18, 2009

Just 15 days to Enduro Africa

The excitement to start our Enduro Africa motorcycle trip is building exponentially by the day. Suddenly, there's a flurry of emails from other EA riders asking a dizzying number questions about what and how to pack, who's on which trip, and other last minute advice.

Just for fun, here's another view of my interactive route map. I swear that you can see animal tracks in the Addo National Elephant park (just north of Port Elizabeth) if you zoom in on the watering holes: 

View Enduro Africa 2009 Itinerary (Leg 1) in a larger map

Thursday, September 17, 2009

US & ZA politicians discuss economics, health, women's status

The second of a two-part exchange on economics, business, education, health care, politics and the status of women between legislators from the U.S. and South Africa is described in the Dallas Morning News by Texas State Representative Helen Giddings.

She notes that, despite all of South Africa's impressive economic activity, including massive preparations for the 2010 Fifa World Cup in Cape Town, critical work remains in terms of the status of women and public health:
Yet South African women lag far behind American women in business and professional accomplishment and in controlling personal business affairs. Actually, the lack of an educated, skilled workforce is causing many jobs to go unfilled. South Africa's decision years ago to properly educate only 30 percent of its population – offering the other 70 percent a much inferior education or no education at all – has simply caught up with it.
Giddings adds:
Domestic and sexual violence are huge issues for South African women, with few resources and laws to protect them. But by far, the most critical issue facing the country is HIV/AIDS, with more than 5 million reported cases in a country of roughly 48 million people. The most menacing statistic is that only 700,000 are on anti-retroviral drugs. This is grossly inadequate for a crisis of this magnitude. The real balance sheet for South Africa is that the average life expectancy is only 52 years.

In all, it is a thoughtful piece that speaks to the promise and benefit for all involved of developing closer economic and political ties between the U.S. and South Africa. See for yourself.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Andrew’s Enduro Africa iMix – Tracks 1 – 3 Annotated

As promised, here's an annotated list of the first few tracks from my iTunes Enduro Africa iMix, selections of which are in heavy rotation among the things I've been listening to while training, planning, or blogging about the trip.

Ondiek – Ayub Ogada (En Mana Kuoyo, 1993). In looking for an opening track, I originally planned to use another one by Kenyan-born Ogada used on the Constant Gardener soundtrack (Kothbiro). But Ondiek offers such welcoming tones, as if inviting listeners to participate in a quiet, thoughtful conversation. For me, the topic is Africa and the impact our trip might have on lives there.

Bullet the blue sky – U2 (The Joshua Tree, 1987). While living in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington DC in the mid-1980s, I was among the tens of thousands at RFK stadium for the 1987 Joshua Tree tour. At one point, Bono grabbed a spotlight and shined it through the crowd, as if to touch everyone present. The band’s unapologetic, post-punk fusion of music and politics erupted in an era of synthetic, vacuous pop and inspired many to think more carefully about our places in the world, including me. I selected this track, which is a critique of Reagan-era foreign policy in Central America, as a touchstone and reminder of the tremendous potential for good and ill that governments can have on humanity and the planet, depending on their priorities and political will.

Marudzi Nemarudzi – Thomas Mapfumo (Rise up, 2006). Ok. So this is one of two that I lifted wholesale from the Long Way Down soundtrack. But wait - let me explain. I don’t know at what point the song comes up in the movie, which was what first inspired me to seek out Enduro Africa. All I know is that it grabbed me and forced me to rewind the film several times just so that I could absorb as much of it as I could. I only later learned that it was by Mapfumo, the “Lion of Zimbabwe”, whose politically charged music helped define a generation’s response to minority rule in the former Rhodesia. 

Monday, September 14, 2009

TEDTalks: Michael Pritchard's Lifesaver

Here's more inspiration from the TED Conference, this time in the form of a talk by nanotechnologist and Lifesaver inventor Michael Pritchard discussing a water-purification system that not only revolutionizes water delivery systems but also our approach to providing care and support in the wake of disasters.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Travel Checklist

In anticipation of the big day, I've modified my usual travel checklist for my departure for Enduro Africa. Here's where it stands 21 days out: 

Rider gear

Helmet and helmet liner

Goggles, extra lenses

Riding jersey/pants

Off-road boots and liners

Upper body armor, knee pads

Rain gear


Ear Plugs

Gloves, back-ups

Glasses, straps


Vax: flu, thyphoid, hep A



Alcohol wipes, gel

Cold, flu meds

Allergy meds

Gatorade power

Bug spray

Sun screen

First aid kit




Socks, shoes




Rain jacket

Swim gear



Travel towel

Slp bag liner

Biking shorts


Power converter

Blackberries, charger

iPod, podcasts, charger

LED flashlight

Camera, memory, battery/chgr

Enable blog publish emails

Enable GPS logger

Solar charger

Waterproof bags

Travel Docs

Wallet, license, credit cards

Passport and backup

Travel Insurance docs

Itineraries, addresses

Electronic tix, back-ups

International driver's license

Confirmations @ T-24/48 hr

Books, magazines