SOUTH AFRICA: Boost for local AIDS research

The first HIV/AIDS vaccine to be developed in South Africa started clinical trials last week
Johannesburg, 29 July 2009 (PlusNews) - A government initiative to boost local HIV/AIDS research was launched in South Africa on Tuesday amid concerns about dwindling international funding for health research.

The South African HIV/AIDS Research (and Innovation) Platform (SHARP), with backing from the Department of Science and Technology (DST), will support the development of new treatment options and prevention approaches such as microbicides, vaccines, and the role of genetics in controlling HIV infection.

South Africa has the highest burden of HIV infections in the world, and has become an important centre for AIDS research, but the funding for such work still comes overwhelmingly from international donors, many of whom have been hit by the global economic crisis.

Besides funding research projects, SHARP will aim to attract donations from national and international sources to build the capacity of young researchers in the HIV/AIDS field, facilitate the sale of products that result from research projects, and implement systems for sharing knowledge and protecting intellectual property.

The DST came under fire last week when it emerged that it had stopped funding the South African AIDS Vaccine Initiative (SAAVI). However, according to the DST "there were concerns about SAAVI's performance", with large amounts of DST funding going unspent.

The Department of Health is supporting the recently launched clinical trials of the first HIV/AIDS vaccine to be developed in South Africa, while the United States National Institutes of Health (NIH) is paying for production of the candidate vaccine.

"The South African government had to revisit its expectations of HIV vaccine research in the light of growing national and international deliberations on the need to modify basic HIV/AIDS research and development strategies," the DST noted.

The DST also pointed out that South Africa and other developing countries could not compete with developed countries in terms of providing significant funding for the development of vaccines and other new prevention technologies. So far SHARP has committed R45 million (US$5.8 million) to fund nine research projects over the next three years.

One of the projects will validate a method for testing resistance to antiretroviral drugs that is cheaper and more accurate than the current method; another will investigate the role of natural "killer" cells that prevent HIV transmission.


Theme (s): HIV/AIDS (PlusNews), Prevention - PlusNews,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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