HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson today announced the award of a Comprehensive International Program of Research on AIDS (CIPRA) grant to researchers in South Africa. The Perinatal HIV Research Unit of the WITS Health Consortium in Johannesburg will receive $21.3 million over five years to conduct a research effort led by James McIntyre, M.D., of University of Witwatersrand and Chris Hani Baragwanth Hospital in Soweto. The award will support HIV/AIDS research in a family setting, a rarely tried approach to fighting the disease.
"In areas such as Johannesburg's Soweto Township, where hardships of HIV/AIDS are profound and resources strained, this new CIPRA award will help develop practical, sustainable techniques of HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment tailored to the needs of families," noted Secretary Thompson.
Administered by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the CIPRA program helps developing countries strengthen their HIV/AIDS infrastructure and increase their capacity for research into promising methods of HIV prevention and treatment. In South Africa, HIV infects one person in nine, and the number living with HIV/AIDS -- between 3.5 and 4.2 million -- is the highest in the world.
"Low-income households in South Africa carry the greatest burden of disease, experience the greatest negative effects, and have the least reserves available to cope," said Dr. McIntyre. The new CIPRA grant, "Safeguard the Household: Comprehensive AIDS Research," will address HIV/AIDS as a problem not simply of individuals, but of entire families, he explained. All family members may participate in the studies. This emphasis is well suited to Soweto where more than one HIV/AIDS infected person in a household is the norm rather than the exception, and where costs of caring for a family member dying of AIDS further impoverishes already poor households.
"The economic impact continues even after the death of family members from AIDS," added Dr. McIntyre. "Many families will use a large proportion, or all, of their remaining resources to cover burial costs. Also, with family money gone, surviving members, including children, are often forced into crime or sex work, which perpetuates the epidemic."
This CIPRA award is a collaborative effort with the Universities of Witwatersrand, Cape Town and Stellenbosch, the South African National Health Laboratory Service and other institutions. Dr. McIntyre and co-investigators from South Africa, the United States and the United Kingdom will conduct research at two sites -- Soweto Township in Johannesburg and Masiphumelele Township.
Five integrated projects will:
- evaluate HIV/AIDS treatments for adults and children in a family setting at primary care levels;
- test whether treatment interruptions can reduce the progression to AIDS in infants;
- determine the efficacy of two standard childhood vaccines (used to prevent pneumonia and meningitis) in preventing AIDS-related complications in infants;
- evaluate the community effect of highly active anti-retroviral therapy on sickness and deaths due to AIDS and tuberculosis; and
- evaluate simple, inexpensive methods to monitor disease progression and the effectiveness of anti-retroviral therapy.
"Enhancing the quality of life for people living with HIV/AIDS is the key aim of this project," NIAID Director Anthony S. Fauci, M.D., said. "Research in a family context provides excellent opportunities to do that by offering social support services, risk reduction messages and prophylaxis of opportunistic infections. We believe this research ultimately will benefit the many families living in the shadow of HIV/AIDS."
The inauguration of this project was also marked today by a commemoration at Soweto's Chris Hani Baragwanth Hospital. During this event the United States Ambassador Cameron R. Hume noted that this is the second CIPRA awarded to South African scientists within the last six months, bringing the total funding for this program in South Africa to about $32 million. He said, "This demonstrates the high quality of biomedical research being done in the country and the United States' commitment to partnership in the struggle to prevent HIV transmission and to expand the availability of effective AIDS treatment in South Africa."
NIAID is a component of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIAID supports basic and applied research to prevent, diagnose, and treat infectious and immune-mediated illnesses, including HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, illness from potential agents of bioterrorism, tuberculosis, malaria, autoimmune disorders, asthma and allergies.