Durban - The country was counting on the KwaZulu-Natal Research Institute for TB and HIV (K-Rith) to produce new drugs and a new generation of local scientists to arrest its high disease burden.
These were the sentiments of Health Minster Aaron Motsoaledi on Tuesday, speaking at the official opening of the eight-storey R346 million research centre, on the campus of the University of KwaZulu-Natal’s (UKZN) Nelson R Mandela School of Medicine.
UKZN and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute are the research centre’s founding partners.
For emphasis, Motsoaledi cited a 2011 World Health Organisation report, which said the TB prevalence was 800 per 100 000 people, “accompanied by a high mortality rate”.
“South Africa is among 22 countries in the world responsible for 80 percent [of cases of TB] in the world,” Motsoaledi said.
Seventeen percent of KZN’s population was HIV-positive, and 80 percent of adults infected with TB also had HIV, according to statistics issued by K-Rith.
The province is frequently referred to as the epicentre of the pandemic.
Just over six years ago, an outbreak of XDR-TB (extensively drug-resistant TB) in Tugela Ferry killed 52 of 53 patients in a hospital there.
At the time there were only 347 cases of XDR-TB worldwide.
K-Rith’s mission is two-fold: to discover new tools in the treatment of the diseases in Durban and worldwide, and to train the next generation of TB and HIV research scientists.
Motsoaledi went on to say that the drugs now being used to treat TB were “old”.
The Mercury recently quoted K-Rith director Prof William Bishai as saying that no new drugs had been developed to treat the disease since 1967.
Also, for a long time, the country had been a destination for researchers from abroad, but the development of young scientists now had to be “fast tracked”.
“We do have [good scientists] but they are old already,” Motsoaledi teased.
He twice thanked the institute for its “generous contribution” to K-Rith.
UKZN vice-chancellor Prof Malegapuru Makgoba called K-Rith a “social conscience investment of the highest order”.
Professor Robert Tjian, president of the institute, said that K-Rith was its first research facility built outside of the US.
This was to fight the “twin scourges” of TB and HIV closest to the patients who needed it most.
Tjian added that K-Rith sought to yield better ways to diagnose, treat and manage the diseases. - The Mercury