The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: 'We Can Eradicate HIV If . . .'

"I will never agree that economics can come between a patient's life and death," says Dr Charles Chiedza Maponga, head of the University of Zimbabwe's School of Pharmacy.

The School of Pharmacy is engaged in a 10-year partnership with the State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo searching for affordable, effective solutions to HIV/Aids infections and other diseases. Researchers on both sides are committed to building a long-term international research and training platform to assist the entire continent.

Last week, two of SUNY Buffalo's leading research centres, the Institute for Lasers, Photonics and Biophotonics (ILPB) and the New York State Centre of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences, announced plans to launch the Zimbabwe International Nanotechnology Centre (ZINC) - a national nanotechnology research programme - with the University of Zimbabwe (UZ) and Chinhoyi University of Technology (CUT).

"We are now thinking of HIV eradication as a solved problem that is only waiting for implementation," declared Dr Maponga during an interview with ZimPAS.

"We want to introduce programmes that will ensure we develop in other areas, such as development of new drugs for cancer, malaria, and HIV/Aids. We are developing a laboratory that will assist clinical trials internationally."

ZINC will be international research and training platform in the field of nanotechnology focused in areas that promote Zimbabwe's strengths and advance the development of nanotechnology as an avenue for Zimbabwe's commercial growth.

Nanotechnology is the understanding and control of matter (at the nanoscale) to solve problems and create new products at dimensions of approximately 1 and 100 nanometers. A nanometer is one billionth of a metre.

The nanotechnology centre, once established, will enable researchers to focus on emerging technologies, initially focused in nanobiotechnology and nanomedicine, for health care.

"Developing nanoformulations for HIV and tuberculosis diagnostics and therapeutics, as well as new tuberculosis drug development, are just a few of the innovative strategies to address these co-infections that this research collaboration can provide," said Gene D. Morse, Professor of Pharmacy Practice, associate director of the New York State Centre of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences and director of the Translational Pharmacy Research Core.

"In addition, the development of new nanotechnology-related products will jumpstart the economy and foster new economic initiatives in Zimbabwe that will yield additional private-public partnerships."

Morse said that the planned "Centre of Excellence" in clinical and translational pharmacology in Harare at UZ will be a central hub for all of Africa, not just for Zimbabwe. It will become a research centre for many other countries to gain new training and capacity building in many ground-breaking aspects of nanotechnology.

The partnership is a result of a long standing college-to-college agreement between the University of Zimbabwe and SUNY Buffalo that began in 2002 and was renewed twice (in 2007 and 2012).

Over 15 Zimbabwean students have benefited from the relationship between the two institutions through training programmes, including Grace Monera-Penduka, Dexter Chagwena, and Tinashe Mudzviti, all of whom are currently teaching at the UZ School of Pharmacy.

"The visit enabled me to map my research protocol linking to nutrition research done in the US," says Chagwena, a nutritionist. "My research focuses on the nutritional status of an individual vis-a-vis the effectiveness of anti-retroviral therapy."

Another researcher, Grace Monera-Penduka, said a new laboratory was being developed at the Medicines Control Authority of Zimbabwe (MCAZ) to conduct antiretroviral assays for the clinical trials in Zimbabwe. "I was observing a similar lab in the US looking at how they collect blood samples received from clinical trials and other aspects," says Monera-Penduka.

With 14 percent of Zimbabwe's population living with HIV/Aids (and tuberculosis as a co-infection), the need for new drugs and new formulations of available treatments is crucial.

"I will never agree that economics can come between a patient's life and death," says Dr Maponga. "...we have got breakthroughs and we know that it is possible to almost totally eradicate any chance of mother-to-child transmission if the mother can take therapy . . . we have sero-discordant couples you can reduce transmission by up to 96 percent . . . (and) if you focus on high risk groups and treat them as soon as they test positive, there are microbicides there, there is male circumcision, there are still condoms there," says Maponga.

"If we package them, we might not even need to worry about funding. We can eradicate HIV if we have faith. It's not about economics but using the resources that are available to you. That's the protocol we are writing," said Maponga, who was part of the team that developed the pharmacy plan for introduction of ARV drugs which was supported by the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC-Zimbabwe) in 2002.

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