Saturday, November 12, 2011

South African team wins Africa's Science Nobel for new HIV gel



Two South African scientists, Salim S. Abdool Karim and Quarraisha Abdool Karim were yesterday awarded the maiden edition of the Olusegun Obasanjo Prize for Scientific Discovery and Technological Innovation for their highly acclaimed work on the use of a microbicide, called Tenofovir gel, to prevent HIV infection and genital herpes in women.
The award instituted by the African Academy of Sciences (AAS), the leading umbrella think-tank for scientists from across the continent is endowed in the name of former Nigerian president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, a patron of the academy.
Described by many of the renowned scientists that attended the prestigious event in Nairobi as Africa's Science Nobel Prize on the continent, the winning couple were selected after weeks of intense debates and examination of works by hundreds of exceptional scientists who were nominated for the prize.
Salim Abdool Karim and Quarraisha Abdool Karim were honoured for their breakthrough in a vaginal gel that has significantly helped to reduced HIV infection rates in women in SouthAfrica, a product of about 17 years of research.
In 2010, the couple’s research team demonstrated that 1% Tenofovir gel reduced HIV acquisition by 39% overall, and by 54% in women, who used the gel consistently. Further, they showed that Tenofovir gel prevents genital herpes (Herpes Simplex Virus - 2), an incurable lifelong sexually transmitted infection which enhances the spread of HIV, by 51% in women.
The study known as CAPRISA 004 is particularly significant as it is a global first in empowering women against HIV. Tenofovir gel, apioneering HIV prevention strategy that women can control, is particularlyimportant for young women, who can rarely negotiate condom use or faithfulness with their male partner.
AIDS and global health leaders have called the results “a game changer”, “a true breakthrough for AIDS prevention,” and “a significant milestone for women in the thirty yearhistory of the HIV/AIDS epidemic.” The finding was ranked among the Top Ten Scientific Breakthroughs of 2010 by Science.
Tenofovir gel is set to alter the future trajectory of the HIV epidemic. In South Africa alone, it is estimated that Tenofovir gel would avert 1.3 million new HIV infections and 800,000 AIDS deaths over the next 20 years. Once implemented on a broad scale, Tenofovir gelis set to save millions of lives and mark the turning point in global HIV epidemic.
The winners of the prize, Salim and Quarrisha AbdoolKarim have made significant scientific contributions to HIV prevention and treatment. Salim is Director of the Centre for the AIDS Program ofResearch in South Africa (CAPRISA) and Pro Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in Durban, South Africa while Quarraisha is Associate Scientific Director of CAPRISA and Professorof Public Health at the Nelson R. Mandela School of Medicine at University of KwaZulu-Natal. Both scientists are also professors in epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health of Columbia University in New York.
The Abdool Karims have published extensively in world renowned journals including Science, Nature, Lancet and The New EnglandJournal of Medicine. They have, individually or jointly, received numerous prestigious awards and medals, including TWAS Prize in Medical Sciences and the Gold Medal award from the South African Academy of Science.

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