HIV/AIDS continues to be a major global public health issue, having claimed more than 35 million lives so far. An estimated 36.7 million people were living with the disease by end of 2016. (World Health Organisation)
South Africa has the biggest and most high profile HIV epidemic in the world, with an estimated 7.1 million people living with HIV in 2016 (WHO). This translates to a disproportionate 19% of the global burden of the HIV epidemic for a country that is home to only 1% of the global population.
These statistics are grim and a constant reminder of the severe impact the epidemic has had on South Africa and the lives of South African. Even so, South Africa has also made great strides in tackling its HIV epidemic through research.
In the last five years, the National Research Foundation (NRF) has significantly contributed to the South African research environment through investments of over R153 million in initiatives such as training, provision of equipment and establishing Centers of Excellence (CoE) and South African Research Chairs (SARChI) with a focus on HIV/Aids.
The CoE in HIV Prevention is hosted by CAPRISA at the University of Kwa Zulu Natal (UKZN) and was established in 2015. CAPRISA focuses primarily on research to prevent and reduce HIV infections predominately in women.
The CoE in Epidemiological modelling and analysis is hosted by the University of Stellenbosch, with focus on research using mathematics to understand, predict and ultimately combat HIV.
Six South African Research Chairs have also been established to focus on research and training in the following areas:
- Indigenous Health Care Systems;
- Vaccine Preventable Diseases;
- Virus Host Dynamics for Public Health;
- Systems Biology of HIV/AIDS;
- HIV Vaccine translational research; and
In addition to knowledge creation, these strategic investments have also enabled the training of postgraduate students and young scientists in a range of HIV/Aids related disciplines.
The impact of these NRF programmes has brought international acclaim to South Africa’s fight against HIV/AIDS and have placed South Africa’s researchers in the forefront. CAPRISA’s research has changed the HIV prevention landscape by demonstrating that tenofovir gel prevents both HIV and Herpes Simplex Virus Type (HSv-2) infection. The CoE has also developed an antibody which neutralizes HIV-1.
As we mark World Aids Day, we remember those who have died from this disease, while celebrating South Africa’s significant scientific contribution in HIV/AIDS research which will benefit future generations, the world over.