KZN attracts R1.6bn medical research investment

The KwaZulu-Natal-based Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) has been awarded a seven-year R1.6 billion grant by the Wellcome Trust to expand scientific research to solve key health issues like HIV and tuberculosis (TB).

The institute confirmed the investment news earlier this week in a statement that noted that a key focus of the research will be the prevention of the spread in rural communities.

Wellcome is a London-based charitable organisation focused on supporting science to provide solutions to global health research.

The AHRI’s main research focus relates to understanding and responding to diseases that are the major causes of illness and death in the country, including HIV and TB, as well as emerging infections like Covid-19 and neglected infections like hepatitis B and adolescent mental health.

“This grant is a vote of confidence in our ability to produce excellent scientific research with demonstrable impact,” AHRI’s executive director Professor Willem Hanekom said.

“We believe our broad research value chain, from population to basic sciences, and strong collaborations with communities and other research stakeholders place us in a unique position to address some of the most pressing health challenges facing under-resourced populations globally.”

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The funding for the AHRI, which currently has 28 faculty members driving research, will go a long way in training the next generation of African scientists to respond to the continent’s health challenges.

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According to the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), South Africa has the largest HIV epidemic in the world, accounting for 19% of all people living with HIV worldwide, with some parts of KZN seeing a higher prevalence among women than other parts of the country.

“AHRI is extremely well-positioned to lead world-class research into long-standing threats such as TB and HIV, and is also advancing research into newer, but no less significant, challenges such as Covid-19 and adolescent mental health,” Cheryl Moore, the chief research programmes officer at Wellcome, said.

“AHRI brings together scientific expertise across a diverse range of research fields, coupled with strong links to local communities. Wellcome is proud to continue to partner with AHRI to support outstanding African-led science, working to improve health outcomes for communities in South Africa and across Africa,” Moore added.

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