Universities of KwaZulu-Natal and Stellenbosch receive R40m research award for cutting-edge HIV study

‘The changing face of HIV in the era of Covid-19’ study’s Principal Investigator (PI) Professor Frank Tanser. l SUPPLIED

‘The changing face of HIV in the era of Covid-19’ study’s Principal Investigator (PI) Professor Frank Tanser. l SUPPLIED

Published Feb 22, 2023


Durban — The University of KwaZulu Natal (UKZN) and Stellenbosch University were awarded a prestigious R40 million grant from the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) recently.

The study is set to commence on March 1.

The Principal Investigator (PI) of the study is Professor Frank Tanser, a South African infectious disease epidemiologist, honorary professor at UKZN and professor at the School of Data Science and Computational Thinking at Stellenbosch University, as well as a senior faculty member at AHRI.

The local PI is Professor Henry Mwambi, from UKZN’s School of Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science. Another senior scientist involved is UKZN’s Dr Andrew Tomita, from the School of Nursing and Public Health.

Tanser said: "We are extremely excited and honoured to have been awarded this grant from the NIH. This is one of the only settings in the world where we can measure dynamic changes in the burden of new HIV infections with a high degree of accuracy.

“We have a fantastic team in place and I’m confident that the findings from this work will allow us to take HIV prevention strategies to the next level. Ultimately (we’ll be able to) make a massive difference to local populations who are still at high risk of infection from this terrible disease."

Often considered the “gold standard” for major research funding, the National Institutes of Health Research Project Grant (NIH R01) will fund the implementation of a five-year investigation to establish the spatial, temporal and demographic shifts in new HIV infection patterns in the post-Covid era and design new intervention strategies accordingly.

This collaborative study included scientists from UKZN, Stellenbosch University, Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI), the University of Lincoln, the University of Heidelberg, the University of Washington, New York University and the University of Cincinnati.

In addition, the research team will allow for UKZN doctoral and other post-graduate students in cutting-edge HIV population science as done in the previous four NIH R01 grants.

The UKZN said the study, entitled “The changing face of HIV in the era of Covid-19”, aimed to establish the population shift in new HIV infections patterns in the Covid-19 pandemic.

“(This it did) by leveraging the statistical power of over 20 years of population-based health data – the Africa Health Research Institute’s (AHRI’s) population-based HIV cohort in northern KwaZulu-Natal – one of the largest HIV cohorts in the world.

“The study will quantify the shifts in spatial, temporal and demographic burden of the HIV incidence and underlying viral load patterns in KwaZulu-Natal. It will also investigate the change due to new HIV infections distribution in the population following the shift towards Dolutegravir-based regimens (ie a new cost-effective drug enabling better treatment adherence) and scale-up of new prevention interventions such as pre-exposure prophylaxis,” the UKZN said.

UKZN’s deputy vice-chancellor and head of the College of Health Sciences, Professor Busisiwe Ncama said: “I would like to congratulate the principal investigators and the whole team for securing the NIH grant.

“This work is very important in helping the country understand the patterns of HIV infections post Covid-19 in order to shape future responses to infectious diseases. We wish you the best as you embark on this important study.”

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