Gates Foundation, SA link to combat HIV, TB, malaria

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation on Tuesday announced multimillion-rand partnerships with South African institutions to develop new medicines and vaccines for HIV, tuberculosis (TB) and malaria.

The country has one of the highest HIV infection rates in the world, with nearly six-million people infected, according to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and Aids, or UNAids. There is also a high prevalence of co-infection with TB. However, TB on its own is second only to HIV as the greatest killer worldwide due to a single infectious agent, the World Health Organisation said.

It also noted that in 2010, there were about 219-million malaria cases, with an estimated 660 000 malaria death. Ninety percent of all malaria deaths occurred in the African region, most among children under five.

The foundation partnered on two multi-year programmes, one with the Medical Research Council's Strategic Health Innovation Partnerships (Ship) unit and the other with the University of Cape Town's Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3-D).

The council would receive R125-million over three years to lead and fund research aimed at developing Aids and TB vaccines, adding to the R130-million from the department of science and technology and R60-million from the department of health. "Ship's role will be to build on the scientific leadership of South African scientists in these diseases and establish, fund and manage research programmes on innovative products and approaches to prevent Aids and TB," the organisation said in a joint release.

H3-D would receive about R55-million over five years to "develop clinical drug candidates to address TB and malaria challenges", they said. The department of science and technology-funded Technology Agency has already allocated R50-million to the centre.

"South Africa has world-class researchers and the infrastructure necessary to develop the kinds of innovative health solutions needed to accelerate progress against TB, HIV, malaria and other infectious diseases," said president of the foundation's Global Health Programme Trevor Mundel. These partnerships "have enormous potential to tackle the tough challenges and support those most in need in South Africa and across the continent".

Population to double by 2050
H3-D founder and director Professor Kelly Chibale said that Africa's population is set to double by 2050. "Africa needs to start discovering and developing medicines for its own people," Chibale said.

This announcement dovetails the launch of the department of science and technology's bio-economy strategy last week.

The bio-economy strategy, which has taken more than seven years to develop, would focus on health, agriculture and industrial applications, and aims to facilitate the development and manufacture of biopharmaceuticals and vaccines, bio-fuels; improve and adapt crops and remedy industrial and municipal waste.

Ben Durham, chief director for bio-innovation in the department, said: "The strategy involves the development of products and services, not because it's a really interesting academic idea, but because there's a real-world need in government and industry fulfilling a market need."

"We are confident that the strategy we are launching today [Tuesday] will address the full value chain, going beyond the mere generation of new technologies to ensuring that technology development is informed by the needs of the country and the people, and that social and economic value is generated," Science and Technology Minister Derek Hanekom said.

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Sarah Wild
Sarah Wild is a multiaward-winning science journalist. She studied physics, electronics and English literature at Rhodes University in an effort to make herself unemployable. It didnt work and she now writes about particle physics, cosmology and everything in between.In 2012, she published her first full-length non-fiction book Searching African Skies: The Square Kilometre Array and South Africas Quest to Hear the Songs of the Stars, and in 2013 she was named the best science journalist in Africa by Siemens in their 2013 Pan-African Profiles Awards.

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