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Zinhle Mapumulo

Zinhle Mapumulo

Finding a vaccine to prevent HIV infection may take decades but local scientists are not giving up.

The first research and clinical trials unit in a rural area was officially opened in Limpopo on Friday. The Ndlela HIV Research and Clinical Trials Unit is located at Agincourt in Bohlabelo district.

Its main aim is to provide an understanding of the HIV epidemic in the area and to conduct clinical trials on prevention.

Dr Eftyhia Vardas, the director of the unit, said: "The establishment of this centre will give scientists insightful information about HIV in rural communities and how they can be helped.

"A number of clinical trials have been conducted across the country but not in rural areas. By opening Ndlela we will be able to conduct a study for a vaccine and microbicide gels," Vardas said.

Apart from studying the prevalence and incidence of HIV in Agincourt, scientists at the centre will also conduct research on other infectious diseases such as TB, measles and cholera. They will focus on the impact the diseases have on the community and how they can be prevented.

Vardas said: "We have not compromised just because the unit is situated in a rural area. The lab and machines are all of international standards. All the staff are professionals and bring valuable experience. Some are from the community while others are from other provinces," she said.

The opening of the centre has not only strengthened the health system of Agincourt, but has created job opportunities as well. About 20 people have been employed.

Faith Ntanyani is one of the locals working at the unit as a study coordinator.

She said: "The establishment of the unit is what the community of Agincourt needs. Like any rural area, we are experiencing unemployment and poverty. And when these two are rife infectious diseases such as HIV and TB are bound to escalate. The opening of the unit will ease the burden on the poor community and the health system," said Ntanyani.

Derek Hanekom, the deputy minister of Science and Technology, Stefano Butto, the director of Italy's National Aids Centre, and Professor Stephen Tollman of the Medical Research Council also attended the event.


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