UKZN Marks World AIDS Day 2017
Globally, there are 37 million people living with HIV and there are about 5 000 new infections every day –70 percent of which happen in Africa with South Africa home to one out of five infections in the world.
This is according to the Associate Scientific Director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim, who was speaking at a UKZN function to mark World AIDS Day.
Exploring the history of HIV/AIDS, Abdool Karim examined the first reported cases by the Centre for Disease Control in the early 1980s. ‘We started to see young people, who didn’t typically use health services, coming in really, really sick and dying shortly afterwards.
‘For some reason, we didn’t see this in southern Africa,’ she said. Fast forward 30 years, and sub-Saharan Africa has become the epicentre for the disease. ‘The heart of our economy, the heart of our society was suddenly being decimated – it really mobilised a whole lot of activists in an unprecedented way.’
Abdool Karim said HIV was discovered by a woman – Nobel Prize winner and virologist Dr Françoise Barré-Sinoussi. ‘A lot of people are unaware that within two years of the first case of AIDS, Dr Barré-Sinoussi discovered HIV, while a year later UKZN honorary doctorate graduand Dr Robert Gallo developed the HIV antibody test. These two developments really opened the door for us to start to respond to the epidemic in a much more robust and systematic manner,’ she said. ‘The role of activism and social mobilisation in the HIV response is unprecedented in the context of health and there is a lot we can learn from this experience for other health and social challenges.’
Abdool Karim said ARVs made possible two of the biggest breakthroughs in the epidemic - changing the face of AIDS from inevitable death to being a chronic manageable condition and preventing transmission from infected mothers to infants. She said the transmission rate used to be between 30 to 40 percent but was now down to less than two percent.
She says the use of ARVs in unaffected people could also prevent HIV infection and that in the future, she believes ARV’s will be available either as an injection, or as an implant, or in a way that is more innovative and easier than taking tablets.She said circumcision could reduce infection for men by between 50 to 60 percent.
‘This confluence of knowledge at this point of our response needs to be used to generate innovative and radical ideas on how to change the current high rates of new infections. This is particularly important in KwaZulu-Natal which is the epicentre of the epidemic.’ She challenged everyone to think about what they could do to make their actions count, starting with knowing their HIV status.
Abdool Karim did her first degree at the then University of Durban-Westville, with majors in microbiology and biochemistry, discovering her passion for immunology. She is acknowledged globally for her lifetime of work in the field of HIV/AIDS and was recently appointed UNAIDS Special Ambassador for Adolescents and HIV.
Abdool Karim, together with her husband Professor Salim Abdool Karim, recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Institute for Human Virology (IHV). She has been named among 100 influential and inspirational women around the world by the BBC for her work in science and, in 2013, was awarded the Order of Mapungubwe: Bronze by President Jacob Zuma in recognition of her “outstanding work in the field of HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis research and health policy development”.
Mrs Busi Ramabodu of UKZN’s Human Resources Division thanked all those who had made the day a success and acknowledged the Vice-Chancellor and Principal, Dr Albert van Jaarsveld, and his Executive for attending and being tested for HIV.
Hosted by the Human Resources Division and Student Services, the programme included an address by UKZN’s Ms Nomonde Magantolo on the University’s 90 90 90 UNAIDS strategy, while the importance of testing was emphasised by HIV activist Ms Jabu Sikohosana and a demonstration on self-testing for HIV was given by Biosure’s Ms Anne Beltran.
Words: Raylene Captain-Hasthibeer
Photograph: Albert Hirasen