Fight against HIV needs local scientists, say researchers

October 22, 2007

Scientists from developing countries are vitally important in the fight against HIV and they must be given the proper resources to conduct their work, according to a new commentary published today in the journal Nature Immunology.

Researchers from Imperial College London, who are evaluating multiple candidate vaccines designed to prevent HIV, argue that Western governments and funding agencies must commit to sharing technology and expertise with those in the developing world on a long-term basis.

The researchers have been working with local scientists in Uganda and other sites in the developing world to enable large-scale international trials of potential vaccines against HIV. They argue their work shows that it is both feasible and desirable to carry out high-quality trials in developing countries, but that more state-of-the-art laboratories are needed in the developing world to support such trials and enable the roll-out of antiretroviral drugs.

The authors write that people in countries like Uganda wish to take ownership of, or at the very least be equal partners in, efforts to develop treatments for HIV to benefit their population.

"Old fashioned 'parachute science' - where scientists from the developed world flew in, bled a few patients, and immediately returned to their country of origin with their samples, are no longer required or acceptable. In-house development and research is an effective and efficient way forward," said Professor Frances Gotch, one of the commentary's authors from the Division of Investigative Science at Imperial College.

Uganda is a relative success story in relation to other parts of sub-Saharan Africa in terms of how it has dealt with the spread of HIV, thanks to a National AIDS Control programme, which was established early in the epidemic. Nonetheless, one million people in the country are living with HIV and contributions from the West have been and continue to be crucial in Uganda and elsewhere, say the authors.

Collaborations across sub-Saharan Africa have so far enabled the creation of network of state-of-the-art laboratories, staffed by local scientists and technologists. Cooperation between the Ugandan government and international bodies has enabled the development of research which has led to improved HIV screening and counselling; free mosquito nets and water purification to prevent opportunistic infections; and free testing and treatment for basic infections of danger to those living with AIDS.

"Western governments and funding agencies need to continue to build capacity and train future generations of scientists and doctors on-site in new technologies," added Professor Gotch. "Countries need resources to maintain and sustain not only the facilities and equipment, but also staff in these countries who are trained and motivated. It is most important to give countries the capacity to train the trainers in their country so that knowledge can be shared and developed there."

The commentary is part of the Council of Science Editors' global theme issue on poverty and human development, launched today by the National Institutes of Health to coincide with the publication of related research by more than 230 journals worldwide.
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Imperial College London

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