Muscle-flexing in Cape Town (with a Smile)

With an incidence of HIV in one hard-hit region of South Africa reaching 44 percent among young pregnant mothers, this part of the world is on the front lines of the public health response to HIV. At the HIV R4P conference in Cape Town on Tuesday, however, South African science minister Naledi Pandor wanted to let the world know her country was no longer a passive participant, content to supply trial volunteers while others did the research.


“We don’t want to be just clients any more,” she told an auditorium full of HIV experts from around the globe. Pandor wants to grow demand for the knowledge and effort South Africans have to offer to the AIDS response and better global public health, naming both mature research efforts such as the South African AIDS Vaccine Initiative and young local researchers being feted at the start of the HIV R4P congress. The country aims to fully establish itself as a platform for research and become a strategic public health partner—backing it up with resources, dollars and ideas, the minister says. “What do we do to reach the young people we’re not reaching? Perhaps the hip-hop-sounding name of this conference is something we should incorporate,” the minister quipped.

Pandor described new data for treatment as prevention, emerging products for pre-exposure HIV prophylaxis, and a strong agenda promoting vaccine and cure research as lifting what was a ‘dismal picture’ for public health in South Africa at the beginning of the 1990s. Helen Rees, director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute in Johannesburg, took up the message later in the day. “It’s the old idea of safari research,” she says, doing trials in Africa and publishing the results and reaping the benefit in the west. “It’s still an issue. We did an analysis recently looking at studies on child health. The predominant lead authors are still from the economic north even though many of the data sets are generated in the south.”

Anatoli Kamali, the Ugandan leader of the AIDS research unit in Entebbe, pointed to the 30 percent of abstracts and presentations at the Cape Town congress from African institutions as a step in the right direction. – Michael Dumiak