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South African scientific excellence: South African AIDS scientist to lead UNAIDS Expert Panel

Author: Tulio de Oliveira - 2013-07-01


This blog aims to highlight the achieved scientific excellence of HIV researchers in South Africa and to congratulate Prof. Salim Abdool Karim for his new appointment as head of the expert panel of UNAIDS.

South African HIV scientists are among some of the most prolific researchers in the world. For example, researchers in South Africa were among the ones to prove that antiretroviral therapy can prevent infection. The first piece of evidence was in the ground breaking HTPN052 trial that showed a decrease of 96% of infection in negative partners if the positive one received treatment (ref. 1). Recently, Africa Centre's researchers have shown a decrease in 40% of incidence at population level with the increased coverage of Antiretroviral (ART) (ref. 2). In addition, in 2010, Science listed the results from CAPRISA Tenofovir gel as one of the 10 most important scientific discoveries of the year (ref 3). On the basic science, recent results from Prof. Lynn Morris's group have identified very potent antibodies that may guide new vacinnes (ref 4). The list goes on and on and it would be easy to list another ten manuscripts in the top scientific journals on the recent advances of HIV research in South Africa.


The scientific excellence of South African researchers was acknowledged with the appointment of Professor Salim Abdool Karim, Director of CAPRISA at the University of KwaZulu-Natal and President of the South African Medical Research Council, as Chair of the newly established Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS) Scientific Expert Panel and as Scientific Advisor to the Executive Director of UNAIDS. The announcement was made by Executive Director of UNAIDS, Michel Sidibe, on 3 June 2013 during his opening address at a UNAIDS Scientific Symposium held at CAPRISA in Durban.

The Scientific Expert Panel will advise UNAIDS on major new scientific discoveries, as well as gaps and strategic needs in AIDS research and on how UNAIDS can adjust its policies to address these needs and shape the AIDS response. In addition, the panel will provide strategic advice on the relevance of new research and findings and how they can be rapidly implemented to best effect to prevent new HIV infections and improve the lives of people living with HIV.

As part of its mandate, CAPRISA will convene international scientific consultations on behalf of UNAIDS and its Scientific Expert Panel, the first of which was recently held in Durban, South Africa and focused on the scientific advances and the implications for public health programmes in Africa.

'To reach the end of the AIDS epidemic, we need to continue to embrace science and innovation and I am delighted that Professor Abdool Karim has agreed to take on the leadership of our new UNAIDS scientific panel,' said Mr Sidibe.

It is well recognized in the world that local high-level research can be quickly translated policies of national interest. In addition, local representation on the Scientific Expert Panel will allow the translation of scientific evidence to enhance the South Africa's response to the HIV epidemic. We, at SATuRN, want to applaud the major scientific and policy advances that South Africa has made in the past few years. Long live South Africa scientific excellence!

References:

1 - Cohen MS, Chen YQ, McCauley M, et al. (August 2011). "Prevention of HIV-1 infection with early antiretroviral therapy". N. Engl. J. Med. 365 (6): 493-505 (2011).

2 - Tanser F, Barnighausen T, Grapsa E, Zaidi J, Newell M-L. High coverage of ART associated with decline in risk of HIV acquisition in rural KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa. Science; 339:966-71 (2013).

3 - Abdool Karim Q, Abdool Karim SS, Frohlich JA, Grobler AC, Baxter C, Mansoor LE, Kharsany ABM, Sibeko S, Mlisana KP, Omar Z, Gengiah TN, Maarschalk S, Arulappan N, Mlotshwa M, Morris L, Taylor D, on behalf of the CAPRISA 004 Trial Group. Effectiveness and Safety of Tenofovir Gel, an Antiretroviral Microbicide, for the Prevention of HIV Infection in Women. Science 329: 1168-1174 (2010)

4 - Moore PL, Gray ES, Wibmer CK, Bhiman JN, Nonyane M, Sheward DJ, Hermanus T, Bajimaya S, Tumba NL, Abrahams MR, Lambson BE, Ranchobe N, Ping L, Ngandu N, Abdool Karim Q, Abdool Karim SS, Swanstrom RI, Seaman MS, Williamson C, Morris L. Evolution of an HIV glycan-dependent broadly neutralizing antibody epitope through immune escape. Nat Med. 2012 Nov;18(11):1688-92. doi: 10.1038/nm.2985.

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KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP), K-RITH Tower Building, Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine, UKZN

Contact: Prof. Tulio de Oliveira, Tel: +27 31 260 4898, Email: tuliodna@gmail.com & deoliveira@ukzn.ac.za

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