Cape doctor wins HIV research prize

LINDA-GAIL Bekker of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre at the University of Cape Town was awarded the £60000 (about R735000) Royal Society Pfizer Award at a ceremony in London this week.

LINDA-GAIL Bekker of the Desmond Tutu HIV Centre at the University of Cape Town was awarded the £60000 (about R735000) Royal Society Pfizer Award at a ceremony in London this week.

The funding provided by this award will be used towards research being carried out at Nyanga primary health clinic in Cape Town.

Bekker's team will collect positive tuberculosis cultures obtained from sputum samples in the clinic with the aim of describing the diversity of TB strains among HIV-positive individuals receiving highly active anti-retroviral treatment (Haart), as well as among HIV-positive individuals not receiving Haart and HIV-negative individuals.

They will also explore healthcare-associated transmission of tuberculosis in the clinic and test drug sensitivities of all cultures.

It is hoped the research will provide lessons on how TB-HIV and anti-retroviral treatment services are designed and run in southern Africa, as well as giving further information on host susceptibility and organism virulence.

Bekker is also the chief operating officer of the Desmond Tutu HIV Foundation in Cape Town.

Her doctoral work focused on the host response to TB both with and in the absence of HIV co-infection. Her research interests have expanded to include programmatic and action research around anti-retroviral roll out, TB integration and the prevention of HIV.

Bekker's research looks at how TB epidemiology has changed in the HIV era.

Researchers estimate that more than one in 10 of all South Africans over two years old were living with HIV last year.

South Africa has also seen a six-fold increase in TB rates in the past 20 years.

Bekker said of her award: "I am honoured to be a recipient of the Royal Society Pfizer Award. It will help me and the great team I work with to do our part in investigating urgently what those extraordinary measures should be. This health crisis requires innovative thought and research to find answers and effective strategies to turn these numbers around."

Lorna Casselton of the Royal Society said: "The award recognises the valuable research already taking place in Africa while aiming to expand research capacity. We hope this award will boost the careers of its winners and the individuals working around them." - Health-eNews

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