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Research Institute Launched in South Africa
HHMI partners with leaders and scientists in South Africa to fight the dual epidemics of TB and HIV.
Left to Right: Malegapuru William Makgoba, University of KwaZulu-Natal; William R. Jacobs, Jr., Albert Einstein College of Medicine; Adriaan Willem Strurm, Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine; Salim S. Abdool Karim, University of KwaZulu-Natal; Bruce D. Walker, Massachusetts General Hospital.
With simultaneous events in the United States and South Africa, HHMI and the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) announced the creation of an international research center focused on making major scientific contributions to the worldwide effort to control the devastating co-epidemic of tuberculosis (TB) and HIV. The center also aims to train a new generation of scientists in Africa.
“This initiative adds a new dimension to HHMI's commitment to international research,” said Thomas R. Cech, then president of HHMI, at the March 19 press conference in downtown Washington, D.C. “This cross-Atlantic partnership reflects a shared view that direct and substantial investment in basic, clinical, and translational research in the heart of the pandemics of HIV and TB will yield significant discoveries that will alleviate the human suffering caused by these diseases.”
Construction of the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for TB and HIV (K-RITH) on the campus of the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine in Durban is expected to begin this fall. HHMI will provide $20 million toward construction of a six-story facility that will include two floors of high-level biosafety (BSL-3) laboratories equipped for TB research. Additional support will come from UKZN and LIFE Lab, a biotechnology center of the government of South Africa. HHMI has also committed to providing generous research support to K-RITH for the next 10 years.
“This initiative signifies an important milestone in the strengthening of global partnerships in the fight against communicable diseases,” said His Excellency Welile Nhlapo, the South African Ambassador to the United States. “The world needs robust, practical, affordable, and sustainable solutions to the problems of HIV-AIDS and tuberculosis. South Africa is well positioned to help develop them.”
South Africa has more residents infected with HIV than any other nation in the world. By 2007, the nation accounted for 17 percent of the global HIV disease burden—an estimated 5.4 million people are infected—and it has one of the highest per capita rates of TB in the world. TB, a major problem in pre-AIDS South Africa, emerged as a public health crisis in its own right, particularly with the appearance of both multidrug-resistant and extensively drug-resistant (XDR) strains of TB in persons already infected with HIV.
KwaZulu-Natal province, home to more than 10 million people, bears an even greater burden of disease than the nation as a whole—as much as 40 percent of the population may be positive for HIV. When an outbreak of XDR-TB was reported in the rural area of Tugela Ferry in 2006, the region became a focus of international concern even as additional cases of XDR-TB surfaced elsewhere in the world.
Photo: Paul Fetters