In the war on HIV, Africa cannot rely on donors alone

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Maina Waruru
Freelance journalist, SciDev.Net


Africa’s contribution to HIV/AIDS vaccine research remains low, despite the continent bearing the heaviest burden of the disease.

The continent’s contribution to the vaccine and other medical research initiatives tends to come at the tail-end of research process, at the clinical trials stage.

Participants at the Africa Science Journalists Conference (ASJC) in Nakuru were told that while the continent has the capacity for ‘basic science’, it lacks the resources needed to initiate medical research. This is because huge financial input is required at the laboratory stage.

Gaudensia Nzengi, a medical researcher with the Kenya Aids Vaccine Initiative (KAVI), told the forum that only South Africa had the capacity to undertake expensive medical research, with the rest of the continent relying heavily on knowledge transfer.

All is not lost though, as there are over 30 vaccine initiatives ongoing in Africa, she noted.

AIDS research in Kenya. Photo credit: KAVI

“There has been progress in the war against HIV/AIDS as infection rates have dropped significantly,” Nzengi said. “Mother-to-child transmissions have also decreased.”

Nzengi told the audience of the ‘breakthrough’ in paediatric HIV infections in Kenya, where infection rates have fallen to around one per cent compared to past figures of 40 per cent.

Progress may be due to the increased availability of HIV-suppressing drugs, but she warned that this may be eroded unless governments start providing their own anti-retrovirals as opposed to wholly relying on donors.

“The era of free HIV drugs is coming to an end and governments will soon have to start funding treatment themselves. External funders who currently bear the treatment burden are getting tired,” Nzengi added.

Part of the reason, she observed, was that economies across Africa were experiencing sustained growth even though western economies continued to battle suppressed growth.

This blog post is part of our Africa Science Journalists Conference 2012 blog, which takes place 20-23 August in Nakuru, Kenya. To read news and analysis on science journalism please visit our website.

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