On a recent visit to South Africa, a delegation from Washington, DC, visited the PEPFAR funded Sinikithemba Centre at McCord Hospital, in Durban, to see for themselves the remarkable advancements that have been made in the treatment and management of HIV and AIDS in South Africa over the past 10 years. The group included Donald Gips, United States Ambassador to South Africa, as well as US Senators Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), and Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi). Director of K-RITH, Professor Bill Bishai, accompanied the Senators on their tour and explained some of the challenges facing a population with such high incidence of HIV and AIDS infection.

South Africa has one of the highest HIV/TB co-infection rates in the world, Bishai, told the Senators. Fuelled by a high concentration of HIV positive individuals with reduced immunity, and emerging drug-resistant strains of bacteria that cause tuberculosis, the country has seen an explosive spread of new TB infections in recent years. Bishai reminded the delegation of the words of former President Nelson Mandela: ‘We cannot win the battle against AIDS if we do not also fight TB. TB is too often a death sentence for people with AIDS.’

The Senators learned that surprisingly little is known about this disease combination, which is very difficult and time consuming to treat. New diagnostics tools, more effective treatments, and advancements in vaccine research are desperately needed to devise more successful ways to combat and manage TB and the high prevalence of TB/ HIV co-infection.

K-RITH was set up specifically to tackle these problems. Through a unique collaboration between the Howard Hughes Medical Research Institute in Maryland, USA and the University of KwaZulu-Natal, K-RITH is bringing together top class scientists to study this disease in an environment where solutions are needed most. It is hoped that this collaboration will lead to major scientific contributions to the worldwide effort to contain the spread of TB and HIV.

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