And HHMI has taken up the challenge. The Institute has joined in a partnership with the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa, to build a research center on the campus of the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine. The KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for Tuberculosis and HIV (K-RITH) will be a major research facility with laboratories equipped to safely handle TB and HIV. HHMI has committed $60 million over 10 years.
K-RITH will be located at the center of the TB and HIV co-epidemic in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal province. South Africa is home to about one-third of the cases of HIV/TB co-infection worldwide, and the situation is more dire still in KwaZulu-Natal province. In the rural village of Tugela Ferry, where extremely drug-resistant TB was first identified, up to 40 percent of adults are infected with HIV and a staggering 80 percent of TB-infected adults also have HIV.
By working near the heart of the co-epidemic, K-RITH scientists are poised to identify and respond to emerging changes in HIV and TB. Already, the Institute has identified areas where new knowledge is urgently needed, including research on the immune system’s response to TB and HIV, and the causes of TB recurrence.
Jacobs and Walker have joined with two South African scientists—A. Willem Sturm, dean of the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine and K-RITH’s interim director, and Salim S. Abdool Karim, pro vice-chancellor for research at the University of KwaZulu-Natal—to create a scientific steering committee for K-RITH and to jump start the initial research program. As part of that effort, HHMI is supporting the renovation of existing laboratory space so that research involving extensively drug-resistant strains of TB can move ahead before the new building is complete.