20 September 2012

South Africa: Country to Open U.S.$40 Million HIV, TB Facility

Rio De Janeiro — The KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV (K-RITH) will open a 40,000 square feet research building in Durban, South Africa, next month (October) - the latest example of a trend of pouring investment into fighting Africa's HIV epidemic, according to experts.

The US$40 million facility will accommodate nine principle investigators, two of whom are from Africa, and includes four floors of dedicated laboratory space, 6,000 square feet of biosafety level 3 laboratory (highest level is 4) and training facilities.

The facility was jointly founded by the University of KwaZulu-Natal and the US-based Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 2009. Its goal is that discoveries made in the heart of the TB and HIV epidemics will drive innovation to control the diseases.

Salim S. Abdool Karim, director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), said that the facility is the most recent example of a trend for pouring international funds and research capacity building into fighting the HIV epidemic in Africa.

"[The] US government invests, between the several agencies, US$150 million per year in HIV research, meanwhile US$5 million per year is invested by the South African government," Karim told SciDev.Net during the AIDS Vaccine 2012 conference held in Boston, United States, last week (9-12 September).

But he added that a significant part of the work done in some of South Africa's ten HIV research centres is collecting data and patients for clinical studies. "[The African researchers] are not active leaders ... but mere contributors [to] someone else's work."

Karim highlighted the importance of ensuring that such centres also provide a space for South African research to generate ideas for original research.

He said that CAPRISA is taking such steps. More than half of the 40 papers published in 2012 had South African scientists as first authors.

"We also have been meeting our very difficult target of publishing every year in the 'Big Four' [Nature, Science, the New England Journal of Medicine andthe Lancet], for [maximum] impact," he said.

Mitchell Warren, executive director of Global Advocacy for HIV Prevention, said that "there has been an explosion of scientific mind, scientific leadership and opportunities in South Africa and in general in the developing world".

He highlighted the key role these initiatives play in linking South African scientists with scientists around the world. "Another important issue is the commitment by these initiatives to creating opportunities for young scientists," he said.

 - This article was amended on 1 October.

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