University of KwaZulu-Natal scientist, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, has been appointed Chairman of the newly established UNAIDS Scientific Expert Panel.

The new body will convene a series of scientific consultations to ensure that the best scientific evidence is used to inform the global response to HIV.

Abdool Karim's appointment was announced  yesterday by the Executive Director of the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), Mr Michel Sidibé, during his opening address at a UNAIDS Scientific Symposium in Durban. 

A statement said the panel would provide strategic advice on the relevance of new research and findings and how they could be rapidly implemented to best effect to prevent new HIV infections and improve the lives of people living with HIV.

‘In the thirty years since HIV was identified, the progress made by science has been extraordinary and its benefits have been felt far beyond those directly affected by HIV,’ said Sidibé in the statement. 

‘To reach the end of the AIDS epidemic, we need to continue to embrace science and innovation and I am delighted that Professor Abdool Karim has agreed to take on the leadership of our new UNAIDS scientific panel.’

 Abdool Karim, who is Director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) at UKZN, said in the statement that science had the power to illuminate the future path to defeating AIDS. ‘I am humbled by this appointment and look forward to this new challenge.’ 

An Epidemiologist, he has conducted research on HIV epidemiology, pathogenesis, prevention and treatment over the past 25 years.  

 Abdool Karim also holds academic appointments at Columbia University in New York and is interim President of the South African Medical Research Council.

As part of its new mandate the panel will convene international scientific consultations on behalf of UNAIDS, the first of which is already underway in Durban.

The topic of this first meeting is: Scientific advances from the “Mississippi baby”: Implications for public health programmes on mother-to-child transmission of HIV.

The statement said the doctor who cared for the Mississippi baby, Dr Hannah Gay of the University of Mississippi, was one of the invited experts who would present the case history.

At the meeting experts will discuss ways to improve early diagnosis of HIV in new-born children and implications of starting them on antiretroviral therapy early.

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